JK: Whose Frontier is That?
“Whose Frontier is that, anyway?” spoke the poet as he told a story of a man coming into a bar and asking about a Nissan pickup parked out front.
The poet, Bob Wrigley, winner of Pushcart Prizes and a professor at a variety of creative writing programs around the country, was responding to a question posed to eight writers at the recent literary event, The Nature of Words, that I attended in Bend, Oregon. The question given to our state Poet Laureate (Lawson Inada) and to Alexandra Fuller, memoir author of Don’t Lets Go Out to the Dogs Tonight and Craig Lesley, winner of a Golden Spur award from Western Writers (among others) and to Linda Hussa, a rancher from northern California who won the WILLA for poetry with her book, Blood Sister I am to these Fields, and David Guterson, who wrote Snow Falling on Cedars, and Bob Pyle, who chased Monarch butterflies from Michigan to Mexico, and James Galvin, novelist and poet, who is a permanent faculty member of the Iowa Writer’s Institute, was “Whose frontier is it, anyway?”
I had the pleasure of emceeing these eight authors serving on a panel before a sell-out crowd. All week they kept saying to each other and to me, “I don’t know what to talk about with that question. What frontier? Whose frontier? Alexandra Fuller grew up in Rhodesia and now lives in Wyoming. What frontier would she talk about?
But when the night arrived, these eight authors, who spend days alone as do we when we write, rose to the occasion and did what authors do: they woke us up. They helped us pay attention to an entire range of frontiers. Development, and what that means to a high desert country (or a village across the sea); fencing and those who do the fencing that ultimately changes the landscape frontier. Spiritual frontiers and how writers will help people explore their own journeys. Even the role of Bigfoot (or in your part of the country it might be Babe the Blue Ox) in the cultural frontier of a region was discussed. How we find ourselves becoming less “self-sufficient” so that our children don’t know where their food comes from, and yet we expect the stores to be filled with foods from around the world regardless of the season--that, too, was seen as a new frontier.
It was a grand evening of laughter and restraint, another word used in conjunction with knowing what a frontier might be and how to live within them. Frontier is defined as that place beyond a settled edge. As a writer, we live in that space beyond the settled edge because we are explorers in ways to bring others along.
I got so caught up in the articulate discussion that I failed to say what I had intended at the beginning, and that was to repeat a phrase from Nobel Poet, Derek Walcott, who said “Where your heart hesitates, there lies your next frontier.”
If any of you are hesitating about YOUR next chapter, or your next idea, wondering if you’re up to the task of writing about it, perhaps that is your next frontier.
Jane Kirkpatrick, A Clearing in the Wild. http://www.jkbooks.com