Hundred Highways Tour #8: MT Highway 3 to the High Plains BookFest

Billings viewed from Highway 3

Billings viewed from Highway 3

The High Plains BookFest and the High Plains Book Awards presented by the Writer’s Voice and the Billings Public Library are a great reminder of the importance of community in the literary arts. Writers spend so much of their time alone, plucking away at typewriter keys or scratching the pages of a journal, accompanied by a cold cup of coffee and a snoring cat. Not many people understand what it is we’re doing, or why. Often, neither do we. Writing is wandering a dark cave with a dim flashlight. Something fantastic is painted on the walls but we can only make out a bit at a time. We must, from time to time, head back to the surface and compare notes with other explorers with their own dim flashlights. Not only to expand the understanding of the picture, but to recharge our batteries so we can head back down with a brighter light. So an opportunity to gather writers and readers together, to celebrate the books that move us, change us and challenge us, to hear our words spoken aloud and echoing off other souls, is vital to the continuance of our craft.

I checked into my room at the Dude Rancher, with its cattle brands carpet and matching headboard, then bolted over to the Visible Vault to read a couple poems and be a judge for a really terrific poetry slam. I used to do a lot of slam poetry back in the Midwest and it’s been awhile since I attended an event with this much talent. It reminded me of the energy back at the Kraftbrau in Kalamazoo. There the wild poems flowed as freely as the beer, and I met some of the finest writers I know.

The next night, after visiting a couple classes on campus, I met up with other poets at the weekly jazz jam at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. Garage and dogdamn! I had no idea such a great jazz scene existed in Montana. Really hot players, good cold beer. I was invited up to perform a piece with the band. I did a new poem, “Arundo Donax” from a work-in-progess suite that contrasts the positive beauty and power of John Coltrane with the ugly death-wish of the Coal Train.

My actual reading for the festival was a perfect example of the community of writers and its value. I was honored to share the lectern with Tami Haaland (Montana’s poet laureate), Cara Chamberlin author of the really fine book The Divine Botany), Dave Caserio (one of the best performance poets I’ve seen) and Nathan Petterson (who won the slam two nights previously). Hearing their words definitely revealed more of that cave painting and served to recharge the batteries.

So now, with those recharged batteries, I’m ready to head back down into the cave. There’s another poem down there, waiting to be brought to light.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]


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Hundred Highways Tour #7: MT Highway 86 to Country Bookshelf

DSCN1273Lisa and I had to get a little creative for our route to Country Bookshelf in Bozeman to avoid, yet again, traveling I-90 (there’s only so many ways to get over the pass). So we headed up to Clyde Park (originally called “Sunnyside”) and took the breathtakingly scenic Brackett Creek Road to Highway 86 which hugs the south-eastern front of the Bridger Mountains.

It was worth the extra time.

As always, “making good time” should refer to quality not quantity. And any route that results in a poem, is very high-quality indeed.

Brackett Creek

Gold coins of aspen
shimmering on the hillsides as
a golden eagle lifts
from a fence post

We slow to watch
as it follows the slope of the land
like chords waving across the lines
of a musical staff

Sunlight painting spruces,
barns & the ribboning road
unrolling before us
like our best possible future

Surrounded by the only gold
that isn’t fool’s gold,
& with you here to share it,
I’m the richest man in the world

The reading was enhanced by that drive, and also by a great dinner beforehand with one of my favorite couples, Gatz and Janie. Gatz (aka William Hjortsberg) gave me the first blurb for Vagabond Song (which, coming from the author of so many great books and screenplays, was a huge honor).

Here’s the trailer for the Caldera Theatre Co. production of “Trout Fishing in Livingston” which features Gatz reading from his Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan:

Thanks for riding shotgun on the Hundred Highways tour. We’ll be heading to Billings next.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Reviews and Buzz for Vagabond Song

As the Hundred Highways Tour continues, the word about Vagabond Song is spreading review by review, blog by blog, semaphore by semaphore. Below is a running list.

Much thanks to all the editors, writers, journalists, reviewers and readers who work so hard to support independent literature!

Interview by Cherie Newman of The Write Question

Montana Public Radio ran my poem “Wool Blanket” in advance of my visit to The Write Question.

The legendary Review Magazine – review and interview by Robert Martin

Distinctly Montana with an excerpt from the “Flying Cloud to Warrior Highway” movement


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Hundred Highways Tour #5-6: Route 12 & MT 1 to the Montana Book Festival


At Homestake Pass. Considering that most trains are full of coal instead of people, this is how I wish all tracks looked.

From Butte onward, to the Montana Book Festival for a reading at Shakespeare & Co., named for the legendary Paris bookshop that published my favorite book of all time.

The reading was great – I felt very welcomed by Garth and the other wonderful folks at the bookstore. The best part was sharing the stage (and a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc by Régis Minet before the reading) with Gary Whited, one of those really fine, gentleman poets who remind me that I need to work harder and dig deeper with my own poetry. He read from his collection, Having Listened, and had me hooked by the second line: “Meadowlark on barbed wire, yellow breasted door opens with its song.”

DSCN1178The rest of the weekend was full of visiting with some great writers – enjoying their words and energy, eating too much good food, drinking just the right amount of good wine and sitting in the window sill in our 5th floor room listening to a street piano-player (only in Missoula) plink out a song to the night.

Piano player
taps stars in the night sky
composed by Galileo

On the way home, we took Montana Highway 1, aka the Pintler Scenic Route, a relaxing cruise through towns like Hall and Maxville and on into Philipsburg where we enjoyed the elixers offered by the Philipsburg Brewing Company and caught a bad-ass, down-home blues set by SmokeStack and the Foothill Fury.

Where copper dreams become nightmares.

Where copper dreams become nightmares.

Near its terminus at I-90, Highway 1 rolls through Anaconda and Opportunity, past the Anaconda Smelter Stack. This 585 foot tall structure, capable, when it was in use, of spewing out three to four million cubic feet per minute of toxic gas, is the tallest free standing masonry structure in the world. The Washington Monument could fit inside it. That’s about the best metaphor for American capitalism I can imagine.

I always get a graveyard chill passing these places. Brad Tyer’s fine book, Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape, explains why. Here’s the trailer:

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Ebooks of Vagabond Song Now Available

Before you say it: I know, I know. How can the guy who wrote this anti-ebook screed now be selling them?

Three reasons:

  1. I want my book to be available to everyone, and I know that many people prefer ebooks or enjoy the convenience and portability, so who am I to judge. Plus I can offer the ebook at almost half the price of the paperback, making it more affordable for readers.
  2. I want to sell a lot of books. I want to sell so many books that I can quit my day job. … Oh, wait, my day job is selling books. Oh well. … And,
  3. As I write in Vagabond Song, “Self-contradiction is the beginning of honesty.”

Anyway, here’s the links for the ebook on Kobo, Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle. Please let me know if you’d like it available for another device. Thanks.


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Hundred Highways Tour #2-4: I-90, Route 191, I-15 to Imagine Butte Resource Center


Rivers to my left are Pacific-bound, those to my right, Atlantic-bound. Me? IBRC-bound.

Unfortunately, to get from Livingston to Butte, there aren’t many options for a route other than Interstate 90, due to the mountain passes you need to get through – including Homestake Pass at the Continental Divide. In Vagabond Song, I call the interstates “unfreeways”:

“As William Least Heat Moon says, ‘Life doesn’t happen along interstates. It’s against the law.’ Those routes have been anesthetized for your protection. Movement is an illusion: the billboard cowboy wears the same hat in Abilene as Atlanta. The genetically-bastardized McDestruction-of-Local-Flavor-and-Sucker-of-Souls-Burger tastes the same in Sacramento or Syracuse.”

However, during the first stretch of the run, I-90 is concurrent with U.S. Route 191, a great border-to-border ribbon through the western states. It will take you to Arches National Park – “Abbey’s Country.” Somehow my road trip there didn’t make it into the book, but I remember the feeling of pilgrimage to visit the red rock maze of mind-boggling mystery and silence that was the birth-place of Desert Solitaire – one of the most important and beautiful books our country has ever produced. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this entry RIGHT NOW, and run to your local, independently owned bookstore or library and get a copy. Go sit on a log or rock, and read it.

Really, go!

From my room at the Finlen, I daydream about staying at the Tait.

From my room at the Finlen, I daydream about staying at the Tait.

Okay, now that you’ve read it, let’s continue on to Butte, Montana – home of the biggest hole in the heart of the Earth.

I like Butte. It has a similar energy and badassness as many Midwestern cities that have also been built, chewed up, poisoned and abandoned by industry. It’s a horrible and all-too common process of how the raw materials of earth and humans are transformed into money. But the humans who survive, like flowering weeds that crack the concrete, create some of my favorite art. I’ve seen it in Detroit and Saginaw and Flint. I saw it again in Butte at the Imagine Butte Resource Center where I had my reading.

The kind folks at the IBRC are a whirlwind of creativity. Collaborating on visual, literary and performing arts to build a vital culture to thrive in a post-industrial, battered but beautiful, landscape. The reading led to a passionate discussion of resisting corporate greed involved in further destruction of the land. In particular, we discussed the plans of Sonny Janda, CEO of Lucky Minerals, to put the health of Paradise Valley at grave risk just so he and his investor friends can get a little richer.

This audience-driven discussion reminded me of why I write. Why every artist needs to stay engaged in the Struggle. There’s no time left for “look-at-me, look-at-me, look-at-me” artists. We need artists who are warriors. Blissful, wild revolutionaries and mad saints with knife-sharp pens and brushes. With machine-gun typewriters and cameras.

I hope to keep meeting more of these poets of resistance on these hundred highways. I hope you, too, are busy sharpening your pen.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Hundred Highways Tour #1: U.S. Route 89 to Elk River Books

On Route 89 along the Yellowstone River

On Route 89 along the Yellowstone River & the Absarokas

The “Backbone of the Rockies,” often called the National Park Highway — connecting seven of them as it makes its way from Arizona to the Canadian border — U.S. Route 89 is the first highway of the Hundred Highways Tour in support of Vagabond Song.

Technically, I didn’t really travel it to reach the book’s launch party at Elk River Books, since I live two blocks from our bookstore. But 89 follows the Big Bend of the Yellowstone and runs through my town of Livingston, Montana, becoming Park St. for a few miles and passing a dozen yards from our store. Before the reading, having dinner on the back patio at Glenn’s, I could watch the scant traffic sailing by — mostly local-bound or Yellowstone Park visitors, but perhaps a few or even just one, on some great adventure of the open road. Throwing the dice of life and following wherever the snake-eyes and boxcars lead. I tipped my hat and raised my glass to that imaginary traveler, wishing him or her the magic of endless, winding, solitary, singing roads — and the wisdom to listen to the music.

The reading was a blast. A great gathering of Livingston comrades. Edd Enders discussed his artwork he created for the book — noted our communal respect for and inspiration by the same things: crows and empty roads. My cousin Doug Peacock gave me a beautiful intro, telling the story of one of my favorite memories with him: mucking around the swamps of the Shiawassee Flats back in Michigan to repatriate arrowheads and spear points gathered in his youth. The room was packed, the wine free-flowing and my words were received by such a kind and beautiful audience that I felt doubly proud in having written them.

A couple days later, I was driving 89 proper, south through the Paradise Valley. My wife and I made an impromptu trip to Chico Hot Springs for a soak and to enjoy the music of our friends, the one and only Strangeways. In the morning we took a short drive up toward Emigrant Peak. The creek tumbled alongside the rock-strewn road, bringing clear, fresh, life-giving water down to the Yellowstone. The midnight green forests seemed painted across the granite faces of the great mountain, sliced by avalanche scars and resilient pockets of snow. This place is incomparably beautiful, uncompromisingly powerful and inconceivably under attack by the greed-driven earth-eathers of Lucky Minerals. They want the gold that this mountain holds. To get it, they are willing to scrape and dig and blast and haul away an area four times larger than the Berkeley Pit. The fact that they seek a Categorical Exemption for their exploratory drilling shows they have no concern for this land, for the wildlife, the water quality, the recreational uses, the farming, the ranching, the fishing, the hunting, the local economy and quality of life, the history, the future. Their concern is money.

Here’s two groups fighting the fight. Get involved. Save Paradise.
Yellowstone Bend Citizens Council
Park County Environmental Council

Thanks for traveling with me on the Hundred Highways Tour. See you up around the next bend.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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The Hundred Highways Tour

100_0639In support of Vagabond Song: Neo-Haibun from the Peregrine Journals, I’ll be setting out on a series of regional tours giving readings and signings. From Montana to the southwest, from the midwest to the west coast, I won’t quit until I’ve hit a hundred highways. The Montana leg started a few yards off Highway 89 as it comes through downtown Livingston, at my bookstore, Elk River Books.

Below is a listing of past and upcoming events which will keep expanding until the count hits 100. Plus there’s this cool map:

Click a pin on the map to see where I’ve been and where I’m going, and to visit the wonderful venues who support the tour. Blue pins are upcoming events and red pins are past events.

Here’s each leg of the tour, with links to blog entries of the highways traveled:

Thursday, Sept. 3; 7 pm – Book release party at Elk River Books, Livingston, MT
#1: U.S. Route 89

Tuesday, Sept. 8; 7 pm – Imagine Butte Resource Center, Butte, MT
#2 – 4: I-90, Route 191 & I-15

Thursday, Sept. 10, 5:30 pm – Shakespeare & Co.Montana Book Festival, Missoula, MT
#5,  6: Route 12 & MT 1

Tuesday, Sept. 29; 7 pm – Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, MT
#7: MT Highway 86

Friday, Oct. 2; 7 pm – High Plains BookFest, Billings, MT
#8: MT Highway 3

Saturday, Oct. 10; 7 pm – Cassiopeia Books, Great Falls, MT

Thrusday, Oct. 29; 7 pm – Ken Sanders Rare Books, Salt Lake City, UT

To learn more about the book and for ordering info., click Vagabond Song.

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Vagabond Song Tour Posters

Event organizers,

Below are two downloadable posters for organizers hosting events for Vagabond Song, one for printing to 11″ x 17″ paper and one for 8 1/2″ x 11″. For details on the book itself, click here.

8.5 x 11: Click to download pdf

8.5 x 11: Click to download pdf

11 x 17: Click to download pdf

11 x 17: Click to download pdf

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Almost 3 Weeks …

Kirn Card

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