Montana Arts Council

An Agency of State Government

Mark Gibbons—Montana's Poet Laureate



The position of Poet Laureate for the state of Montana is, strictly speaking, an honorary one. But it’s a post which comes with responsibilities: “Advancing and supporting the poetic arts involves reaching out to and beyond the art and literary communities in Montana to promote the appreciation of poetry as an ancient and ongoing form of expression.”

By that measure, Mark Gibbons is a man who’s been Poet Laureate in all but name for decades. A tireless advocate for the craft and art of the written word, he’s logged thousands of miles crisscrossing the state to read his work, mentor young writers, judge Poetry Out Loud competitions, and otherwise engage in the “ongoing” part of this ancient form of expression.

So it’s entirely fitting that the mantle has officially been passed to Mark. Governor Greg Gianforte made the news official earlier this year, recognizing Mark’s years of dedication to making poetry accessible to all and vital to the cultural fabric of Montana.

“I am happy to be Montana's new advocate for poetry,” Gibbons remarked after hearing the news. “We have a rich tradition of poetry alive and well all across the state, and previous poets laureate have done a good job of bringing poetry to the people and discovering poetry there.”

A Montana native, Mark is the author of 11 volumes of poetry. He’s also a 2013 recipient of the Montana Arts Council’s Artist Innovation Award and is the editor of FootHills Publishing’s Montana Poets Series. His newest collection, “In the Weeds,” was recently published by Drumlummon Institute. Mark has also served as a mentor and judge for Poetry Out Loud, the national student recitation competition, and has taught poetry in schools for the past three decades.

Gibbons’ career got its start during a high school poetry workshop taught by James Welch, the author of Fool’s Crow and Winter In the Blood, and he says Welch’s teaching gave him permission to write poetry in his own voice and from his own experiences. Mark’s early love of poetry included the work of Richard Brautigan, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and other Beat poets, and his own voice developed while he was earning BAs in English and Psychology and an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Montana.

Like a lot of area poets, Mark has also held down a variety of classic Montana jobs: dishwasher, janitor, carpenter, wood cutter, gandy dancer, surveyor, firefighter, furniture mover, laborer, truck driver, and teacher. In between doing all that, Mark has managed to publish work in numerous poetry journals and anthologies, and his solo collections include “Something Inside Us,” “Circling Home,” “Connemara Moonshine,” “blue horizon,” “War, Madness, & Love,” “Mauvaises Herbes (Weeds),” “Forgotten Dreams,” “Shadowboxing,” “The Imitation Blues,” “mostly cloudy,” and “In the Weeds.”

How did Mark, and his predecessors, become Poet Laureate? Every two years, nominations are submitted by Montana citizens. A selection committee drawn from members of the literary community then select finalists from among these nominations, and finalists are submitted to the Montana Arts Council board for review and approval. The Poet Laureate is then selected from the finalists by the Governor. Mark succeeds poets Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker, who shared the post from 2019 to 2020.

In choosing Mark, the selection committee noted, “The work is strong, and Mark has been laboring freely and joyously in the trenches for decades; his fierce advocacy is definitely worthy of recognition, as is his work.” Montana Arts Council Chair Cyndy Andrus had this to say: “Mark Gibbons has dedicated more than three decades to his craft and sharing his love for poetry with the students, readers, and people of Montana. His advocacy for the written word makes him eminently deserving of this honor.”

Explaining why poetry should matter to all, Mark notes that “Poetry is living, it’s ongoing, and when we share poetry as we do at funerals, weddings, and other sacred gatherings, it brings us together. That's something we always need as a culture and society, and maybe now more than ever. Poetry reminds us to love, not fear. I look forward to fostering that conversation and reading poetry with my Montana friends.”

It’s fair to say that, for as long as Mark and his work have been embraced by Montana, we’re all looking forward to it too.



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