Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poetry and the Feral Impulse

guest post by Kristin Abraham

I wanted to be powerful over my poem. I have learned since that it has a passivity to it. Let not the “shaping” or the “poem-making” or “acquisitive” mind want to shape a poem. Let the poem find its own identity. 

--Donald Hall

I. On Recognizing the Savage 

The wild boy of Aveyron. Amala and Kamala, the wolf children of Midnapore. Peter the wild boy. Kaspar Hauser. Swine girl of Salzburg. Baboon boy of South Africa. Peter of Hanover. The wild boy of the desert. Sheep child of Ireland. The gazelle-child of Syria. The ape-child of Teheran. Genie. The wild boy of Burundi. Ramu the wolf boy. Isabelle. Memmie LeBlanc, the wild girl of Champagne. 


For a couple of days this month, media outlets hummed with breaking news about a girl in India who had been discovered alone in the jungle, apparently being guarded by a nearby pack of monkeys.

Authorities were happy to report that the monkey girl had been recovered from the isolated wilderness and would now receive the ancillary comforts of civilization, what all humans deserve: modern mind/body medicine. She had been snatched from the edge of the unimaginable.

But I was gutsick for the monkeys, despairing their girl.

Stripped of a child—

of a family—

Rescue by force. By trauma.

What wildness.


I write poetry to gather myself up from that, our impossible world.

I write to contend impossible parallels, to commune the feral child / the feral poem. Impossible existences, equilibriums.


In a 1975 article titled “Socialization and Feral Children” (published in Revista Internacional de SociologĂ­a) Dr. S. Kapoor writes “The feral children that have been reported to date fall into three categories, viz., 1) children ‘who have wandered away into the wilds to survive by their own efforts unaided by human contact’ (4), 2) children nurtured by wild or domesticated animals, and 3) children ‘shut away from human association by cruel, criminal, or insane parents’ (5).”


“I believe that poetry at its best is found rather than written. Traditionally, and for many people even today, poems have been admired chiefly for their craftsmanship and musicality…[but] I respond most to what is found out about the heart and spirit, what we can hear through the language. Best of all, of course, is when the language and other means of poetry combine with the meaning to make us experience what we understand. We are most likely to find this union by starting with the insides of the poem rather than with its surface, with the content rather than with the packaging. Too often in workshops and classrooms there is a concentration on the poem’s garments instead of its life’s blood.”

 --Linda Gregg, “The Art of Finding”


Although syntactically clear, taxonomically speaking, "the feral poem" falsely invokes category where there is none.

Ezra Pound wrote that poetry is "nothing but a transmission of the impulse intact," meaning that a successful poem translates directly to readers the initial spark (emotion, experience, feeling) that leads the poet to write a poem. In other words, "impulse" is the energy that inspires us to write.

Poems are not feral. The poetic impulse is feral.


“…the target remains to secure the pre-social desires and to channel them toward citizenship. 

“Modern society demands the active participation of subjects in their own subjection, practicing civility as though it were instinctual.”

(Murray K. Simpson, “From Savage to Citizen: Education, Colonialism, and Idiocy,” 2007, British Journal of Sociology of Education)

II. On Taming the Other

If the impulse is feral, then poetry derived from the impulse is, to some extent, a product of domestication.

To write a poem is to tame the emotional impulse, to wrangle an experience utterly independent of language and put it into words.

And yet.

Pound said "there's no use in a strong impulse if it is all or nearly lost in bungling transmission and technique." In other words, even if the language and meter are crafted well, a poem isn't successful if it doesn't make its reader feel the emotion/experience/feeling the writer intends to express.

Tightrope discipline.

Grab at the lightning but use both hands.


To guide a feral tongue / To write a poem.

“…feral man has not had any of the benefits society gives the ‘normal’ person.

“Children…have a task made doubly hard in that they must unlearn animal habits. Then too, most of them have already passed the optimal period for development of normal human response patterns.

“Feral man often shows a profound dislike for human companionship.”

(J. Timothy Sprehe, “Feral Man and the Social Animal,” American Catholic Sociological Review, 1961)


To write a poem / To guide a feral tongue.

“...half the time I don't know where the language comes from. I'll be going along writing shit, just awful, boring dreck, you know, and then, suddenly, a different part of my brain takes over. It's like channeling. Maybe it is channeling. Maybe another me, in a parallel universe, is dictating the words.”

--Kim Addonizio, from an interview with Susan Browne, Five Points 14.1


To guide a feral tongue / To write a poem.

“The attachment of symbolic meaning to a material sign [language]…would have no import for [feral man]; he has no ‘looking-glass self’ [societal other]…that might teach him the meaning of meaning. One finds it clumsy to even think about a thought which has no language.”

(J. Timothy Sprehe, “Feral Man and the Social Animal,” American Catholic Sociological Review, 1961)


The poem, stilted toward refinement. Head-to-toe in wrinkle-resistant khaki, pontoon-boat casual but for the black-tie punctuation and rhyme, high-gloss shine and clack like someone else’s dress shoes. Someone else’s cement dress shoes, and the poem just two-stepped overboard.

“From the very start doctors expressed little hope of Ramu’s recovery, and experts like Dr. Manson-Bahr suggested that since Ramu could not be humanized, ‘the best thing to do was to put a bullet through his head’ (29).”

(Doctor S. Kapoor, “Socialization and Feral Children,” Revista Internacional de SociologĂ­a, 1973)

III. On Symbiosis: Being beyond Savage, beyond Social 

“In a sense all my work is...a form of animism, but in it I would replace essentialism or soul with aesthetics or a core that is empty, a kind of holding open to allow poetic tendencies of cadence, form, tone, coloring to move through a flexible core—a force that is both a construction of self and an emptying of self—not autobiographical but autographical—flexible to accommodate figures, things, voices, documentation; to combine, build and dissolve being, boundaries—to somehow let the poem become itself.”

--Peter Gizzi, “An Open Letter of Poetics to Steve Farmer”


When we choose to bring the feral out of the forest, out of the impulse, we choose to be custodians; we must accept responsibility for the outsider. We must attend until.

Tangle with vigilance and permissiveness.

Admit synchronousness, singularity, perspicuity.

Exist in the mystery. Thump with joy.

Kristin Abraham is a Michigan native with an MFA from West Virginia University. She teaches at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne and is faculty advisor to LCCC’s student-produced High Plains Register.

Kristin's poetry and lyric essays have appeared in collections and in Best New Poets 2005, Columbia Poet Review, LIT, and American Letters and Commentary.

She is the author of The Disappearing Cowboy Trick (Horse Less Press, 2013) and two chapbooks: Little Red Riding Hood Missed the Bus (Subito Press, 2008) and Orange Reminds You of Listening (Elixir Press, 2006).

Kristin's poetry has been called “… sprawling and dense, thick-blooded and expansive,” by J. A. Tyler of Subito Press; and by sister poet, Danielle Pafunda, “Heavenly and dangerous at the speculative edge of the West…”

Lucky us--Kristin will be on the faculty at this year's Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in June (click here for more information on that conference), leading the following workshops:
  • Fracturing Fairytales: Making Proverbial Stories Fresh
  • A Rose Poem by Any Other Name Would Stink
  • Have You Listened to Your White Space Lately?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Git 'Er Dun!

guest post by June Johnston

Photo by June Johnston
When I was asked to write a blog post for Writing Wyoming my first inclination was to shout no, no, no! I thought about it for about ten seconds and figured since I call myself a writer, I must write. So I agreed, even though, as I explained to Lynn, I feel woefully inadequate.

The ones reading this post will all be writers that actually know what they are doing. Years ago I heard someone in the entertainment field say they could more easily perform in front of ten-thousand people than a room full of colleagues – especially when they are new at their craft.

That has been whirling around in my head ever since I agreed to do it, but because I try to always keep my word, I decided to git-er-dun. I came up with a few ideas but they all went the way of the Snoopy’s-writings-with-paper-ripped-out-of-the-typewriter-and-tossed-into- the-trash-can, so to speak.

I always say that I’ve been writing ever since my parents gave me a pencil and paper. That might be a stretch, but as soon as I could put together little stories that’s what I did. I used to like to write poetry as well. Still do, on a good day. I put it all aside when it came time to raise a family and be my husband’s sidekick for his endeavors. A few years ago I went back to writing – or I’m trying to.

Photo by June Johnston
The first thing I noticed at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference (my first) last year in Riverton, was that, after the introduction, the first question everyone asked, and I mean everyone, was, “What do you write?” (Of course, writing was what we were there for.) Not do you have children, what is your favorite recipe – the type of questions that had been a part of my world for nearly sixty years.

“What do I write?” Thank goodness I had a couple of things to list! I write magazine articles and have a humor column in my local newspaper. Not much, but it’s better than saying, “Uh, nothing.”

I sort of whispered, “And a couple of novels.” One of those wound up in the shredder and I managed to lose the last half of the second one in the computer… I do amazing things with electronics.

When I was in the eighth grade I wrote an Easter play for my class. The teacher loved it (probably grateful for something different to do) and had the students perform it in the classroom. Thankfully I don’t remember much about the story except that it involved eggs, rabbits, and different couples pairing up. What I do remember is the horribly embarrassing closing line, as one boy points to the girl he has supposedly chosen for his partner and says, “Hare’s mine.”
Photo by June Johnston

Magazine articles are what I’ve had the most fun with so far. They have led me down some totally unexpected paths. I sat on the back porch of a billionaire’s home, sipping coffee, while I interviewed him for a story, and tried to pretend it was something I did every day.

For another article I drove up, up, up a winding forest road to an honest-to-goodness castle (it became a bit eerie when the spires appeared through the trees) and wondered what on earth I thought I was doing!

I did a story about a pianist who has played in Carnegie Hall, a couple of inventors, two country/western singers, an artist, several outstanding entrepreneurs, an eleven-year-old cowboy poet who has since taken that world by storm, a man who was 102 years old and still working, and more. These experiences have left me speechless at times – and terrified, lest I botch the project!

I am always grateful when there is an editor between me and publication. Grammar and punctuation are continually a problem, even though it was one of my “A” subjects in high school. I have found that it is much easier to learn (or re-learn) and retain information when you are young, middle-aged, or not quite old, but at seventy-six it is sometimes quite a challenge, although I realize we learn constantly at any age.

I have a lot of things I want to write before seventy-six morphs into ninety-six. Will I get them done? If I stay focused, write relentlessly, and skip the housework, I might.

Photo by June Johnston
I’m a little short on imagination though - my husband is my favorite muse. When I’m stumped and running out of time, I tell him, “Hey, sweetheart, I need to pick your brain for a while.” He is always cooperative and helpful, rattling off thoughts and plots that amaze me. He gives me a paragraph and says it is up to me to put the other fifty-thousand words with it!

If I were to advise a young woman who wants to write, I would encourage her to always carve out time for herself and truly learn the craft, even if it is with little children underfoot. Don’t allow the passion to escape. Scribble ideas on anything handy, from your grocery list to a Kindle. A voice recorder always in your pocket is a great way to do that, after all, people walk around everywhere now-a-days talking into a little box, so no one will think you’ve gone over the edge.

Don’t let anyone, anything, or any circumstance deter you from forging ahead to your goals. Then when the right time comes and someone says, “What do you write?” perhaps you’ll have a list of accomplishments to tell them long before you are seventy-six.

June Johnston is a freelance writer, photographer, blogger and columnist (Life in the Loony Lane runs in the Star Valley Independent). She married her high school sweetheart and gathered "material" for her writing by living a full life as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother (3 more on the way this summer!) and working as a bank teller, decorator and owner of an art gallery and frame shop. 

"Life is an exercise in expectation," June says, "One has to hang on tight, just waiting to see what each day will bring!"

You can visit June's blog at www.lifeintheloonylane.com.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What I do When I Lose the Will to Write

This story originally ran over on The Writers Thread Emerald Musings blog as a guest post. Our thanks go to Laura Seeber for inviting our contribution to her blog.


By Susan

I’ve written for a living long enough, that I can usually manage the must-do, on-deadline stuff. Some people dig ditches, I tell myself. I push letters on a keyboard.

Where I struggle is with personal, creative work. Sometimes I simply lose the will to write. Winter’s darkness depresses me. A demanding job saps my energy. My mind goes blank. It’s hard to believe in myself as a poet and storyteller when I am slogging through a mental swamp.

I’m not always ready to take on the world. Sometimes I have to use a sliding scale of activities, based on how much motivation I have in the tank. I hesitate to tell other writers what to do, but here’s what works for me:

When I can’t finish, I second draft.

I do most first drafts with pen and paper. When editing and finishing a piece is too intimidating, I go through my notebooks with highlighters and page flags. I look for poems and essays with potential and sit down at the keyboard to get them in the file. I end up doing some good revisions as I type.

When I can’t face the keyboard, I journal.

I wake up ludicrously early and will sit with a cup of coffee and a notebook to get words down on the page. Even if I am only grumbling about life or even making to-do lists, the act of putting pen to paper jars something loose. I often drift into an actual essay, poem, or story idea. Louis L’Amour famously said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

When journaling is overwhelming, I write letters.

Old-fashioned ones, handwritten, with a stamp and sent snail-mail. Why yes, I AM an anachronism. Letters are a great writing practice, because I write with one reader in mind, from my heart, in a natural voice. And who doesn’t enjoy receiving a letter? I know my words will bring one person joy.

Even a letter too much? I read.

I don’t even demand I useful read. I stupid read. I read what makes me happy. I try to read in my genres, but if the book doesn’t grab me, I don’t read it as “homework.” I don’t care how successful the book is – if I don’t want to read it, why would I want to write like it? I want examples to aspire to, not to avoid.

When I’ve lost the will to read…

… then, it’s bad. At that point, I have to assess what’s going on in my life. I may need better self-care. I may even need to withdraw from the world for a limited amount of time and lick my wounds. Emphasis on the word “limited.” A woman I worked with used to say, “If you’re going to wallow, get in there and wallow good. Then GET OUT.” Sometimes a quick wallow is just the ticket.

I have a self-pep-talk.

These are the words I come back to when I’m sucked down an unproductive vortex. Feel free to try them and use them as you see fit:

I believe in you. I have no doubts you’ve accomplished something in your writing, even if you’ve only scribbled five words you love in a journal no one else will see. Stop listing all the things you haven’t done, and pat yourself on the back for the things you have done. Don’t you dare beat yourself up with the word “excuses.” Maybe I’m naive, but I truly believe you are doing the best you can with what you have in the tank at that moment.

A writing life doesn’t always have to speed down the road at a breakneck pace. Find your own fallback positions. Find ways to keep words alive in your life when inertia grabs you by the ankles.

And always have faith: your stories matter.

Know that, and keep going.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Guest post by Clay Landry--researcher, author and speaker on the history of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade  

Clay will be one of the presenters at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference, scheduled June 2 - 4, 2017 in Gillette. For more information on the conference,
visit https://www.wyowriters.org/conference/

Photo provided by Clay Landry

“The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.” 
― Robert Penn Warren 

The question that I get asked most often is “why do you have such a deep interest in the mountain men and the Rocky Mountain Fur trade era?” This is usually followed by the half comment and half question “hasn’t the story of this historical era been fully studied and published?

My introduction to the history of the Rocky Mountain Trade was made in the 1970’s when I purchased a custom made muzzle loading rifle and attended the 1975 Fort Bridger Wyoming rendezvous in 1975. The campfire speaker one evening was Dr. Fred Gowans, a BYU history professor and author of the several books on the Fur Trade Rendezvous era. Dr. Gowans presentation gave such realism and texture to events and men of the fur trade that I was inspired to learn more about their history.

As I read and researched western Fur Trade history I discovered that the geographical and wildlife resources of the Rocky Mountain States provided distinctive influences on the men and events of the time period. The fur trade history of the Upper Missouri River region was a unique chapter in the history of America and the West. The mountain men were among the first Euro-Americans to see and experience the natural wonders of the Rocky Mountain country when it still belonged to the Natives and Mother Nature.

The William Ashley and Andrew Henry Fur Company did not build trading posts but chose to harvest fur by keeping parties of trappers in the field year around and resupplying them by means of an annual gathering called “Rendezvous.” The first rendezvous, held in July of 1825, was located on a fork of Burnt Creek near present day McKennon, Wyoming. These annual gatherings would occur every year from 1825 to 1840. Of these seventeen rendezvous twelve were located in the state of Wyoming. Consequently the history of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous is an important part of Wyoming’s history.

In regard to the question of the history of the western fur trade being fully researched and published I would offer that the majority of my research and writings are focused on the “material and social culture” of the Fur Trade era. More specifically I research the tools, weapons, clothing, and food used by the fur men as well social class system, business ethics and lifestyles exhibited in the early 1800’s. Because my research relies on primary original documents such as newspapers, journals, personal letters and business records I occasionally find tidbits of overlooked information which actually changes or corrects some previously published history.
Photo provided by Clay Landry

The underlying principle for emphasizing material culture studies is to provide insight into the challenges of daily life which illuminates personal beliefs and mores of the people during an historical era. This level of generational familiarity provides a perceptive interpretation of our ancestors’ approach to the historic challenges of their era. I, like many other contemporary historians, attribute “the lack of a sense of history” in this modern world to the dry and droll approach used in the educational system for teaching national and local history. The story of American history when presented with the texture and realism provided by underscoring the lifestyles and personalities of the past has been shown to intrigue, educate and even entertain all ages of students. The current educational system tends to propagate a generational arrogance based on the precept “what can modern civilization possibly learn from archaic ancestors.”

Material culture research however cannot be performed in a “historical” vacuum because an overall chronological view of the period is required to place weapons, tools, clothing and equipment in proper context. In some instances the life of an artifact can be used to relate an interesting chapter in history. A case study of using an 1830 artifact to provide remarkable information about the lives of two fur trappers will be presented during one of my sessions at the Wyoming Writers Inc. Annual Conference.

Not all material culture research efforts take place in museums, historical archives or in front of a microfilm reader pondering original documents or artifacts. There is an applied or field work aspect to this kind of study and for me this aspect manifests itself through my membership in the American Mountain Men.

The American Mountain Men is a 501(C)3 not for profit Wyoming Corporation dedicated to the preservation of and teaching the traditions, skills and lifestyles of the Mountain Men. It is a national organization with 625 members, conducts three annual rendezvous gatherings and publishes a bi-monthly magazine.
Photo provided by Clay Landry

AMM members are required to complete wilderness trips of several days, either horseback, canoe or foot, using only the food, tools, weapons, camp equipment and accoutrements available to the original mountain men. While the AMM members refer to this as “getting out on the ground” others have categorize it as “experimental archaeology.” Membership in the AMM is by invitation only and each new member must be sponsored by the member who invited him to join.

A central tenant of the AMM’s creed to preserve the traditions and ways of the fur men is a dedication to authenticity by using only the methods, tools, equipment, guns and weapons available to the original mountain men. When I became a member of the American Mountain Men in 1991 my quest to relate the history of Rocky Mountain Fur Trade via material culture studies took on a new dimension.

Both I and the American Mountain Men also have a supportive association with the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming. Members of the AMM conduct demonstrations of Mountain Man skills and lifestyle annually for the Museum’s school days and Rendezvous Days programs. I serve as a member of the Museum’s Historical Advisory Board and have also authored articles in seven issues of the Museum’s peer reviewed annual publication –The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal. 

The recommendations of both the AMM and the Museum of the Mountain Man were instrumental in my selection as the Technical and Historical Advisor on the major motion picture about the life of mountain man Hugh Glass titled The Revenant.

My role in the production of The Revenant was to train the nine actors in the operation and maintenance of black powder flintlock rifles and other trapper skills such as making fire from flint and steel, setting traps, trapper jargon, and horse packing. I also worked with the props department and set decorators to ensure that only period correct items were used by the actors and on the set. I also provided some input and corrections to the script and consultations with the director.

For the Wyoming Writers Inc. annual conference in early June 2017 I will participate in panel discussions and conduct three different workshops on:

1) the “three legged stool approach” to researching a specific historical topic,

2) the challenges of researching and writing in each of the three areas of historical authorship-biographies, events & places and material culture and

3) finding viable and interesting western history topics.

I look forward to meeting and working with the members of this stellar organization.