In February 2023, Missoula Writing Collaborative worked closely with reservation schools to bring a ledger art-inspired poetry project to students in Dixon, Arlee, St. Ignatius, Pablo, and Ronan. We partnered with Aspen Decker, who journeyed with MWC staff and writers-in-residence to 5 schools to teach students Plains sign language through traditional Salish coyote stories (something that can only happen when there is snow on the mountains!) in both English and Salish. Following Aspen’s presentation, students were inspired and guided through the process of writing ledger art poems by MWC staff. Ledger art is ultimately named after the ledger paper that became a popular medium in the late 19th century, but is a product of an Indigenous art form spanning thousands of years to present day in which oral histories, stories, are recorded pictorially.
Following Aspen’s presentation, students wrote their own versions of coyote stories that described how regional animals became the way they are (“How the Raven Drained the Coyote’s Heart”, “How the Iinii Got Happy” – Iinii being the Blackfoot word for buffalo). Students either drew freehand or traced outlines of regional animals on ledger paper, illustrating the ledger art poems they wrote.
A selection of ledger art poetry from the 2023 Ledger Art poetry project can be found in the gallery below.
The River Poetry Project began in January 2023 with collaboration between two nonprofit organizations: The Missoula Writing Collaborative and American Rivers. Writing residencies at C.S. Porter are made possible by sponsorship from the William H. and Margaret M. Wallace Foundation.
Sam Olson, a Writing Collaborative writer-in-residence, piloted an exercise in creative place-making with seven classes of seventh grade students at C.S. Porter Middle School in Missoula, MT. Sam guided students in ekphrastic poetry, writing poems inspired by art — specifically, photographs of seven local rivers. Unlike many other places, western Montana is blessed with abundant, clean, clear, cold water that’s worthy of protection and reverence. Inspired by rushing torrents, placid pools, swirling eddies, and burbling currents, young poets evoked their free-flowing creativity, and produced awe-inspiring interpretations and renditions of these home rivers. To move from individual poetry to collaborative work, each student chose a favorite line from their own poem. Woven together, these lines represent the words of each class and are a testament to the collective power of inspiration.
We hope these poems, in turn, inspire you to sense, envision, feel, and visit our local waterways.
The full River Poetry exhibit can be found below.
On January 10th and 11th, 2023, The Missoula Writing Collaborative and Ballet Beyond Borders collaborated to bring dancers into two schools: K. William Harvey on the CSKT Reservation and Lowell Elementary in Missoula. Students had a chance to see performances ranging from contemporary to modern, interpretive to national. When the dancers were finished, students had the opportunity to translate the dancers’ movements into poetry. After 20 minutes of writing, students shared their poems with the dancers.
Please enjoy this selection of photos and poems, inspired by dance!