Sunday, September 25, 2022

A literary art feels the love

by Margaret E. Davis
| August 14, 2022 12:00 AM

The yodeling cowboy Wylie Gustafson belted out nuggets — from “Mmm… Montana” to “Buck Up and Huck It” — from the bed of a glinting vintage red truck. Clustered on hay bales and camp chairs at Columbia Falls’ Sunday Market, we smiled to the tunes and the between-song patter about his 50-plus visits to the Grand Ole Opry and ruminations that he was “too country for country.”

Gustafson also talked about raising kids on his ranch outside Conrad. He intimated he was mostly a free-range parent, “except I always made sure my kids regularly experienced the presence of a poet.”

Lo, about 50 feet away there was one: Paige Moriarty, a 19-year-old college sophomore in a black-and-white gingham sundress tapping away at a Royal typewriter. From her Paige’s Poems booth, she issues 20 to 30 poems per outing.

“The best part is getting to make people’s days better and writing something for them that they get to keep,” Moriarty said of her poetry-on-demand effort.

Customers can pick a prompt from a jar of suggestions or nominate their own. Then Moriarty feeds a sheet into the Royal and the typewriter clacks to life.

Customers return to find their poem pinned to Moriarty’s bulletin board, discreetly folded under their name.

No writer’s block here. “I did impromptu speaking in speech and debate, and I’ve always been a writer,” she said. “I tend to go with my first draft anyway.”

The poem I received hints at a Zen-like muse. Typed on paper the Chinese use to practice writing characters, part of the poem reads: “when the winds of time / catch you / let them bring you / wherever you must go.”

Next to the typewriter sits a jar labeled Pay What You Please. “It’s never been about the money,” Moriarty said. “I already have two jobs.” When not working as a cleaner she clerks at a sapphire shop.

As busy as those jobs keep her, writing has her heart: Moriarty said the Sunday gig is “about keeping myself sharp and also showing kids you can be a writer and have creative pursuits.”

Her last poetry-making day of the season is Aug. 21, when she heads back to school in Missoula, though the market runs through Sept. 11.

Midway through browsing the rest of the market, including watching the knife sharpener and a “Woolly Witch of the West” spinning yarn, along with the work of jewelers, pastry chefs, a woodworker who repurposes skateboard decks, and macramé and henna artists, I paused over my heaping plate of chilaquiles and saw a bunch of kids tightly clustered around Moriarty. Later she said she was “explaining what a typewriter is.”

After hours in the hot sun, Gustafson wrapped up his show, but poetry lives on. An ode Moriarty wrote for the occasion put it this way:

“the day that wylie came to the market

was a day of endless sunshine

and endless smiles

yodeling and montana pride

could be felt and heard from all around

feet tapping and hands clapping

the day that wylie came to the market

was the day none of us wanted to leave town”

Audience development director Margaret E. Davis can be reached at 406-758-4436 or

Recent Headlines