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After fire, FootHills Publishing set for new poetry series with Montana authors

Gillian Kessler

Editor Mark Gibbons has released the first collection of poetry from FootHills Publishings’ 2021 Montana Poet Series highlighting work from local poets based in Montana.

Founded by Michael Czarnecki, FootHills Publishing began as a grassroots operation run out of the Czarnecki home in Amish country using a hand-stitched book press that relied upon battery and generator power.

“FootHills Publishing is a unique press in the world of small presses,” said Gibbons. “‘Off the grid’ is a literal description of FootHills. So the press itself is unique among small presses and has been publishing poets for 35 years.”

Gibbons got his start at FootHills as a poet himself featured in the second Montana Poet Series, along with fellow poets Dexter Roberts and Elsie Pankowski.

But a fire in 2012 burned Foothills to the ground and halted the release of Gibbons work, along with the rest of the series. Despite the setback, Foothills pushed on to release the entire second series collection in 2013.

“I thought the fire may have killed FootHills, but they rose from the ashes with the help and contributions from the community, the Amish, and the support of twenty-five years of poetry lovers.”

Now an Editor, Gibbons acknowledges the importance of publishing the work of poets with diverse perspectives, all of whom are united by their connection to Montana.

“The poets are as unique as people: teachers, laborers, musicians, farmers, florists, journalists, former poet laureates, booksellers, professors, janitors, and county commissioners,” Gibbons said. “These poets identify as LGBTQ, Native American, mothers and fathers, health-challenged cancer survivors, men, and women. If this place has imprinted itself on these poets’ work, one would have to know Montana and their poems. The series is as unique as the poets, the press, and this place.”

This year’s series will highlight six full-length collections from poets Kurt Sobolik, Mara Panich, Gillian Kessler, Chris La Tray, Melissa Stephenson, and Clark Chatlain.

Mara Panich

Gibbons said the label of regional-based poetry often leads readers to assume that Montana poetry is simply vivid accounts of big skies, wildlife, mountains and plains, and of the people who settled here years ago.

However, the Montana Poet Series aims to feature a range of unique themes and narratives beyond just Montana’s natural landscape.

Included in the works, Sobolik’s collection offers the voices of those unheard folks living in rural America – first-person “dramatic monologues about everyday encounters full of humor and poignancy.”

Also included, Panich’s works includes a personal exploration of life while Kessler comes to grips with the death of her mother as she deals with her own family and life.

“Stephenson writes of her journey as a single parent navigating the course of her life,” said Gibbons. “Chatlain pushes the boundaries of form and thought in a dance of language and nature.”

Each Montana Poet Series collection will be available at Fact and Fiction located in downtown Missoula, as well as for online orders at the Foothills Publishing website.

The first collection in the series, Homespun by Kurt Sobolik is currently available, while the second Blood is Not the Water by Mara Panich will be released by the end of May.

This year’s series includes: 

Homespun by Kurt Sobolik was released April 1st this year. 

Blood is Not the Water by Mara Panich will be released the end of May.

Ash in the Tree by Gillian Kessler is scheduled for July.

Descended from a Travel-Worn Satchel by Chris La Tray is scheduled for September.

After Mating for Life by Melissa Stephenson is scheduled for October.

erosion by Clark Chatlain is scheduled for December.