A poet writes of pride and shame

  Dear HCN,

I wish to thank my detractors, who have flailed away at me and my poem, Advice for visitors to Rock Springs (HCN, 9/16/96). One accused me of being full of shit. Darn it, it's probably true, and may be the main reason I write at all. I'm glad HCN liked the poem enough to publish it, and that it provoked some readers to curse at me. The poet Sandy McPherson once told me a poem doesn't have to mean something in particular but it should matter, and she was right.

Rock Springs surely does have its share of churches, devoted Little League coaches, and even a few brave environmentalists, as Marcia Hensley pointed out in her letter. I admire her sense of place and her spirited defense of her home. One might expect an assistant professor of English to figure out the poem has little to do with Rock Springs at all, but I guess that's too subtle a point and not worth arguing. I have lived in Wyoming. I got married on one of its mountainsides, I've trekked miles of wilderness backcountry there, and have spent time in towns from Kaycee to Casper to, yes, Rock Springs. I saw the stunning vistas, breathed the crisp air, and met some decent folks.

I also had other experiences and I do not write from ignorance.

How ironic that Ms. Hensley should mention Montana as "the last best place," a moniker popularized by a 1989 anthology of that state's writers. Poetry of the West is so often imagination, and so rarely fact.

Montana's pride, like Wyoming's, is woven together with its shame and the writers understand this. I should know - I was drinking a vodka and tonic or three with the anthology editors when Bill Kittredge blurted out an idea for the book's title, adapted from Jim Crumley's The Last Good Kiss. After more than two years at work editing the text, we were stumped for a title that mattered until Kittredge's moment of inspiration - and it was inspiration, not journalism, underscoring that what we write, and write about, are usually our impressions.

Chris Ransick

Englewood, Colorado

The writer is chairman of the humanities department at Arapahoe Community College near Denver, Colorado.

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