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Interview with Laurie James


Aye! Way back at the end of January, at then end of my interview with Rosmerry Wahtola Trommer, I said: I’ve another interview, with another poet. I’m thinking, now, I’ll post here as well, say, in a week or so.

And, oy, how it’s been so very much longer than “a week or so.”

Four or five years ago, I interviewed Laurie, planning to submit it to an online poetry ‘zine which went “on hiatus” right when I submitted it. (And it’s still on hiatus, which is sad—it was wonderful, and filled a necessary niche.)

Back then, I’d known Laurie for years, and I still regularly touch base with her. When she was the Featured Poet for Telluride’s monthly Talking Gourds, two years ago, I made it a point to be there.

So, without still more further ado, here’s my interview. Laurie has been beyond patient, waiting for this interview to finally leave my laptop, and enter the outside world.




1) How’d a Montana woman find herself in dinky-town, Colorado? Further, what’s kept you here, forty-plus years?
Well how does anyone end up where they are?  Guess I went with the flow of my life and let it take me where it wanted me to go … but I made a very hard decision to live here in 1972 by leaving behind a good relationship and a different future in Los Angeles. Of course, it changed my life.

I was born and raised in Montana and that certainly still has a huge influence on who I am and what I write about in relation to my younger self and the landscapes I experienced there.  But, I haven’t lived there since I was 21.  I am still just a cowgirl without a horse.

The Montana winters were no fun and this little valley in Colorado has so much sun and good clean air and a pretty mild Winter season.  California was one big season and I felt unconnected to time in that place.

I almost went back to Montana to live in 1974 but something bigger than me came up and I stayed in Salida instead of moving on.  I was married for a short time, had a wonderful son who has given me two incredible grandsons. I was a single mother for 13 years which taught me a slew of survival skills.  I had a great job for 30 years at the local newspaper and things got easier.   But even now as a single woman, I still am tested from time to time. I am a tough old bird and I totally protect what life I have built all by myself.  I don’t have any regrets about any of that but often wonder what other life I might have had if I had stayed in California or gone north in ’74.

I was in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s, of all places, living with my boyfriend at the time, who was an aspiring musician, a drummer.  We had some interesting adventures together trying to survive there. I mean homeless part of the time, down to our last quarter, without a car a lot of the time, hitchhiking and living on bananas. But things turned around and in 1970 when the big earthquake happened I sorta knew I didn’t want to live in LA much longer.  Plus I felt so out of touch with my surroundings.  Being a nature lover, I found all the concrete overwhelming and the people less and less genuine and difficult to relate to.  A fish out of water, is what I was there.

It’s a long story of many things but in December of 1971, I came out to Salida by bus to visit a very close friend who had moved here.  I had only planned a couple week visit but ended up staying for 5 months before I went back to LA and packed up my cat and my sewing machine, hitched a ride with a friend going cross-country to Florida in a VW Beetle.  I landed in Salida and lived in Smeltertown without running water or electricity, where I cared for an adopted goat, and lived on fried egg sandwiches and beer …  until the snow fell.

My first job in Salida was at the now burned down Poncha Lodge as a waitress and bartender.  I drove a 1952 dually-flat-bed pickup I bought for $150.  Friends painted “ Ultra Violet’s Dance Hall and Saloon” on the driver-side door.  I was happy. I had returned to a simpler way to live; wood stoves, blue jeans and letting my hair blow in the wind.  Earthy people instead of city blowhards.   I just knew I was in the right place.  Salida was not the town it is now, but a workingman’s town with miners, railroaders and cowboys—with a few hippies and artists thrown into the mix. It has slowly changed over the years but mostly to my liking.  Seemed then, a lot like Montana in that it had its own special character and characters.

After moving here, I discovered that my father had lived in this area in the 1930s and his father, my grandfather, owned a sawmill in Howard, down the road 12 miles.  That’s a whole other can of worms, but guess maybe that is what made me comfortable and made me stay… a familiarity in the DNA perhaps?



2) Tell me about poetry: How did you come to it, and/or was it vice versa? Or, maybe, how’d you come back to it? Why, specifically, poetry, rather than prose—or painting/sculpting/rose gardening/music/cooking/whatever?


I grew up in a town of 600 people in Western Montana.  It’s claim to fame was “The Largest Bull-Shipping Center of the World”.  I had a happy childhood.  I spent more time outdoors than between walls.  I often sat high up in a cottonwood tree to read, or on the roof of the back porch daydreaming.  I am an introvert by nature but have learned to enjoy the company of others most of the time.  My nickname in high school was “the mute”.  Seriously.

My mother was into culture … classical music, good books and she had one little volume of poetry that I must have read hundreds of times as a kid.  “The Pocket Book of Verse – Great English and American Poems” with a copyright of 1940.  I still have it and still read it.  Everything from Chaucer to Joyce Kilmer.  She also had a volume of Dorothy Parker that enthralled me to no end. My mother could recite by heart “The Jabberwocky”.  I was drawn to the rhythm of words and I believe it’s how I began to think, in cadences. I often would write in my head, a short line or a rhyme.  Wish I had written these things down, but I didn’t.

But I also was a voracious reader of all sorts of literature and read my way through the Book Mobile that came through town during the summer.  Otherwise I had to rely on the grade school libraries which were less stocked.  My Aunt Rose lent me books.  She had a big library and was a school teacher who always had her eyes to the page.  I read War and Peace when I was thirteen years old.  I always read way beyond my age.

Words strung together meant a lot.  We didn’t have television.  We listened to the radio and tons of music on a phonograph.  In 1958 my mother bought a stereo and we thought that was the wonder of the world.

My sister played piano and oboe.  I was deprived of  musical instruction because I wouldn’t practice.  That was a disservice to me I still complain about.

But at 14 my parents “split the sheets” and my mother took my sister and I to Missoula to live.  It was a big thriving university town. I had excellent English teachers in high school and when I was a junior, my English teacher told me I was a natural poet. She submitted one of my poems to the school yearly literary publication and I was published for the first time. After that, friends would kid me about being a poet, like it was some sort of abnormality.  I didn’t flaunt it.

My father died in my senior year of high school and that event had a huge effect on me. I wrote in journals over the years but never developed a cohesive collection of anything worth saving. I have a few but they are just awful. Self-absorbed, depressing stuff.

After high school I attended the University of Montana and lived in the dorms.  My roommate was a poet. She was studying poetry with Richard Hugo. We’d stay up late at night and write poems together, or read his poetry and the poems of others.  Hugo had a huge influence on me.  But I left after a year and moved to California where I went to college for another year but kinda lost my way.  Survival I suppose.  Living on $100 a month and trying to be a student was difficult. I turned on, tuned in and saw the light. I went back to Montana in 1967, “The Summer of Love” for a final go around.  I could write a book about that year.

So moving way ahead in time to 1997, a friend of a friend, Jude Janett, started a writing group in Salida and I started attending and things just started pouring out onto the page.  It felt safe and at the same time it was scary as hell.  I finally got up at an open mic and read something.  It so empowered me that I stuck to it.  Then Jude got me involved in the Sparrows Poetry Festival, which lasted 7 years, and I met and became friends with so many regional poets and it’s all sorta uphill from there. It was like, oh here is my tribe!  I had gone many different directions but this one looked like the fork in the road I had to take, and so I did.

From Sparrows, I was invited to be in the poetry troupe River City Nomads.  We have written and performed together for over 10 years now. We perform together 3 or 4 times a year and write to different themes.  It’s good incentive to get things polished up and ready to deliver out loud to audiences.  We have way too much fun together and it’s been a valuable experience.  They are brothers and sisters in all the best ways.  They make me better.

I dabble in black and white photography as an alternative to the world of words. But poetry only takes a pencil and a piece of paper… napkins, deposit slips, post it notes whatever is nearby when the words come.  When it comes it comes and I had better get it down or it flies away.  I write mostly in longhand and then for ease of editing, transfer it to the computer.  Each poem is a process.



3) Have you considered publishing a book of your poetry?


Well of course.  I haven’t felt like a collection has matured enough but I am working on a collection. I am still emerging.  Whether or not it manifests, remains to be seen … remember I don’t like to practice …



4) Whose poetry voice/style would you like to borrow for a short bit (say, a day or a week, or maybe a month)?
Richard Hugo or Sharon Olds or anyone but me would be enlightening.  I’d embody just about anyone else for a period of time, for new perspectives and processes.



5) What keeps you attending Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival? Talking Gourds events?
I go to gatherings to keep in contact with the tribe.  There is nothing like a passel of poets getting together to rock your world.  Any excuse to get together, not just festivals.



6) What one workshop would you sign up for, immediately?
Always Judyth Hill.  She opens me up like no one else.  She is ecstatic and it’s contagious.
An afternoon with Billy Collins or maybe Charles Bukowski or Jim Harrison would be interesting. Richard Hugo of course.  I enjoy the company of men.  I find men fascinating in the way their minds work, opposed to mine. There are women I also admire and write with that make me aspire to better things.



7) Are there any workshops you’re hankering to teach?

I don’t think I am the teacher type.  I would probably walk around the room with a ruler and smack people on the knuckles if they stopped writing.  It might be something to look at but there are too many other things to do and I am running out of time.  Never been drawn to teaching … it takes a lot of patience.  I am still gathering knowledge and not dispersing it.  Selfish perhaps but I know nothing about how to convey to someone else how they become a poet or how to inspire them to write better.  I’m okay one on one or in writing groups where there is no judgement or overt criticism.  Who am I to inspire someone else and prod a good poem out of them?  I don’t see myself in that light. I am still learning and developing too.


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Three years ago, Telluride presented its first Literary Arts Festival (“LitFest”), and I wanted to go, but I had very recently spent time there, and couldn’t afford another visit, so soon. Last year, I decided, instead, to visit my mom on Mothers Day, which I likely might have done this year, had Mom not passed away, earlier this year. So this go-around, I booked my hotel early, and began dreaming and waiting.

Of course, reality wasn’t much like any of my dreams; but its quality was at least as high as my dreams’. I met one author and one poet, each of whom I only knew by name and photos. And, I got to see nearly all the Telluridians I already knew.

One of the most popular events of LitFest, is its Literary Burlesque, which is both a metaphoric and literal disrobing of its featured poetesses. I wish I could show pictures from it, due to the costuming and such, but alas and go figure, pictures were not allowed. This was also the only event that you had to pay for. It also had sold-out, the previous two years. Thanks to my knowing one of the co-owners of the bookstore where tickets were being sold, I was able to call and get one, while they were still available.

As these thing often happen with writing type festivals and such, I didn’t get much writing done. Well, it’s not the festival that’s to blame—it’s my addiction to YouTube videos. (I’m seriously wondering whether getting wi-fi for my apartment is a good idea.) However, I’m leaving feeling more solid and grounded in being a writer; more thoroughly a member of the tribe.

Meanwhile, back in Salida, Wednesday is to be the last day for our current kitchen manager and dietician. I’ve struggled mightily giving my writing precedence over my paying job. With the upcoming change of management, it seems a good time to make such a change. However, that’s entirely another sack of worms for perhaps another time.

In a few hours, give or take, I’ll get in the van and head back home. My next scheduled visit, here, won’t be until late October, an entire summer and two-thirds of an autumn away. Maybe I’ll squeeze in at least one visit before then. We’ll see. It’s hard to stay away too long from views like these.

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On the Mend

Wowza, I had no idea I’d receive such a flood of responses to yesterday’s blog. Any words of thanks I can offer to all y’all fall so short. But, I’ve gotta try, anyway, right?…

T H A N K   Y O U ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Due to: your responses, a phone call from my sister, and a plethora of emails, hugs, and personal words, I’m back on the mend. I just had a talk with our HR head honcho, and found out about additional resources that are available. Life is worth the living and the fighting for, once again.

The Dallas Divide, on my way home from Telluride, roughly three weeks ago, Oct 15.

The Dallas Divide, on my way home from Telluride, roughly three weeks ago, Oct 15.

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Not So Simple

This afternoon, I happened upon a Facebook post that included a fairly recently-published book by one of my FB Friends. Seems Amazon was significantly marking down (at least) some of its books, including this one, for its “Prime” members. I replied with a snarky comment, along the lines of, “If you truly care about books and writers and blah-blah-blah, then you’ll stay away from Amazon and their ilk, and do your book shopping at Independent Booksellers.”

Well, the person who posted, with whom I’ve had no previous/other contact with, graciously replied that for true book-aholics, it can be hugely cost-prohibited to purchase all their books at “indies.” Further, there are also the issues of “lesser-known” books and new-releases not always being stocked at locally-owned bookstores; and that those same sellers occasionally charge authors for having book-signings and -readings at their stores. Finally, as writers and lovers of books, it just might be a niggling thing being concerned about where readers get their books. Once again, I was reminded the world isn’t always so black and white. I was so taken and grateful for the deepening and broadening of the conversation, a few back-and-forths between me and the woman who’d done the posting, I asked permission to “Share” our post, which was granted.

I’m not a published author, yet. But when I do have my first book published, and also all the subsequent ones, how important will it be, really, how my book(s) arrived in my readers’ hands? Will I be more hung-up on because some of them bought my book on Amazon, or at Barnes and Noble, than the fact that they’re reading my work, that my writing is making further progress in the world?

I don’t like online conglomerates and their big-boxed ilk. But I do (yes) occasionally shop there. But I also make a point to regularly order from my own local “indie;” and each time I’ve visited Telluride, I’ve stopped (at least once) at Between the Covers, their local independent bookstore. More than just with books, I’m a huge believer in, “putting your money where your house is.” Local business typically do so much more for their communities than simply hiring your neighbors, friends, and family. Next time you go to a school athletic game, or a concert, or a play, look inside the program and see who have been the contributors to the event you’re about to watch. I’ll bet the majority will be local, small businesses.

I’m still getting comments from that “Shared” posting of mine. As suspected, everyone so far has grumbled about Amazon, etc; but they’ve also mentioned some of the good even those Conglomerates perform. So, no, it’s not a black and white world. Nor is it always a simple one.


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Changes Afoot

I’ve been at my hospital job for awhile. It’ll be five years, toward the end of February. For a handful of months, I’ve been seriously considering my leaving it. Well, as seriously as not having another job lined up, not even any solid idea of where else to go, will allow. My finances are about to improve, having finally completed debt resolution through a third-party; and the stresses of the job have been increasingly draining me, causing my writing to severely suffer. And regarding my writing, I’m beginning steps toward making it a more prominent aspect of my life. I’ve begun jettisoning my possessions, thereby hacking away at the literal and figurative clutter. I’ll be moving bookshelves and my writing desk around, making a better, more efficient workspace. I’ll be (hopefully) doing some freelance editing, after placing ads in a couple of writing magazines. And I’ll be submitting far more often, and to places that actually pay. I might even dip a toe into copywriting. I’m wanting the work I do to be meaningful, and to more be more closely aligned with my talents and abilities and desires. One of the main things that got me to finally earn my degree over two decades ago was the assurance I’d never have to work in food service ever again. I’ve spent more years cooking after earning my degree than I did before doing so. I’ve grown weary of, as my dad would say, using my back instead of my brains to earn a living. I’m ready to make a change.


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From Where I Left Off

Likely another quick and not-about-writing post. But since there are folks wanting to know how things are since last week’s posting, here’s this.

I arrived safely home, last night, after again driving straight through. (Silly me, the internet map said it’d take fourteen hours and change, and I, computer programer and all, still believed it. It was more like eighteen hours.) It was a long slog. Both of the drives were. But I arrived, both times, safe and all in one piece.

I’m still kinda convoluted, emotion and how-are-you-doing-wise. I haven’t had a break down as of yet. But then, when I’ve felt the grief rising, I’ve pushed it down. (Then, while at the hospital, having seen your father’s body undraped in the drawer of their morgue cooler, nor days later while negotiating highway traffic, are the times to allow oneself to fall apart to pieces.) The good news is I’m back to work, tomorrow, so I’ll be occupied. The bad news is the same news.

Oddly, I find myself grateful for so many things. That I was able to drive to and fro unscathed, with no near misses, no figurative bumps in the road. That things worked quietly and simply in positive ways—not that Dad’s death was a positive experience for any of us. Still, in small and private ways, things worked out, when they could have just as easily, maybe more easily, worked out otherwise, as per Jane Kenyon’s poem.

Due to circumstances, I essentially left things hanging in my current life, in order to deal with things surrounding Dad’s death. Now that some of those things have been taken care of, in one fashion or another other, and I’ve returned home, those “hanging things” are now waiting to be dealt with. (For instance, I renewed my driver’s license this afternoon, and early tomorrow, I’ll be back to work as though I didn’t have a full week off.)

Of course, there’s so much to yet to be said. But for now, perhaps it’ll suffice to say I’m starting anew, right where I left off.

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Post-Telluride: Back Home


So, I finally left Telluride, and made it all the way home. This morning, at five o’clock, I was back at work. Even before I’d turned in my room key at the hotel I was wondering when I’d come back. This morning, I began pondering what’d it take for me to move, there.

Then, I’ve been here before. After my first two-night visit to Telluride, I began pining to move there. In so many ways, Telluride is so precisely the small town I want to settle down in. Its size, its culture of arts (even stronger than Salida’s), its proximity to mountains and wilderness, its close-knittedness, its beauty, its climate, its activities, it library, and more. However, I’m absolutely not all the only person who’s drooling and dreaming of moving there. Housing is tight, and jobs are tricky to come by. Also, the cost of living is a bit higher there than what I’m used to. To put it into perspective, Salida’s “living room,” was a café-coffeehouse; Telluride’s is a wine bar.

And the other thing is I’ve kinda stopped being engaged with life, here in Salida. My social life is still little more than the time I spend with my coworkers while we’re working at the hospital. I don’t go meet friends, don’t even go out and cross paths with friends/acquaintances. My life is essentially work and home. Therefore, I’m missing much of what Salida does have to offer. To put this in perspective, I live three blocks from the Arkansas River, yet only once this year did I go and spend time in the river—and that one time is actually a little better than average for me. (Keep in mind that I am a river person.) This is my life, here in Salida.

So, it’s not fair to compare this life with what I envision life would be like, in Telluride; or compare it to how engaged I was, this past week, while on vacation, there. Yes, Telluride is a phenomenal place. However, Salida is pretty awesome, ‘cept I hardly do anything awesome, now that I’ve lived here eleven and a half years. I highly suspect that much of problem is not so much where I’m living, but how I’m living.

But, just maybe, some of what’ll result from my past week in Telluride will be getting better engaged with life here in Salida.

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