In March 1969, Patricia Frolander, her husband and three children moved from their beautiful, three-bedroom house in Denver, with all the modern appliances of the day, to the bunkhouse on her husband’s family ranch seven miles west of Sundance.
The bunkhouse was built in 1913 as a cook house for loggers. It had a wood stove and an added lean-to.
Two months later, a May snowstorm hit the ranch in the middle of calving season. Frolander didn’t know how to help her husband or understand what he was facing. The snow and the miles made her feel isolated, the culture shock made her self-conscience around other ranchers’ wives. Years later, she wrote “Married Into It,” a poem spanning
40 years, about her transition from a city girl to a ranch wife:
She’ll never last -
too much city,
Don’t know how
he stands it.
Imagine! She don’t know a heifer from a Hereford ...
I heard she was running the baler.
Now if that don’t beat all.
Next thing you know, she’ll be running the cows ...
Their fortieth wedding anniversary -
Kids are throwin ‘ a party. Guess we’ll go.
Good chance to see how the place is holding up.
He and his kind kept that ranch going all these years.
I never! She acts like she owns it or something.
Married into it, she did.
Frolander published that poem this year in a book by the same title. On Monday, Gov. Matt Mead mentioned the book by name while appointing Frolander Wyoming’s next poet laureate.
“It’s great work and it resonates with me and should resonate with all of Wyoming because it speaks about Wyoming and speaks about our people,” Mead said.
Mead picked Frolander from a list of nominees submitted by the Wyoming Arts Council and signed the executive order at a ceremony in Cheyenne.
Frolander, 68, was stunned when she learned about the appointment — while cleaning the bathroom sink, interrupted by a personal phone call from the governor — and is still stunned, she told the Star-Tribune.
“I think it raises the awareness of poetry as an important component to the literary community,” she said. “Wyoming has more writers per capita than any other state in the United States. When you reflect on the very well-known authors in the state of Wyoming, it rather takes my breath away.”
Wyoming’s poet laureate is an honorary title and an unpaid one. Each new governor chooses one to serve through his or her term. The title was first bestowed in 1981 when Gov. Ed Herschler appointed Peggy Simson Curry. She was followed by Charles Levendosky, Robert Roripaugh and David Romtvedt.
Frolander’s appointment will last through May 31, 2013, according to Renny MacKay, communications director for the governor’s office.
Part of the poet laureate’s role is to lead writing workshops, host readings of his or work and to promote Wyoming’s art and literary community. It is a celebration of Wyoming literature generally and poetry specifically, said Roripaugh, a retired University of Wyoming creative writing professor and poet laureate from 1995 to 2003 under Gov. Jim Geringer.
“Poetry is a kind of reflection of the life of a place, of the people who live there and the things that interest them,” Roripaugh said. “In that sense, it’s a kind of literary art that we keep going back to.”
Roripaugh met Frolander as his term as poet laureate was ending. Frolander, who didn’t start writing until the mid-1990s, was a relatively new writer and “I had the audacity to send him a manuscript,” she said.
She was impressed that Roripaugh took the time to read it and offer encouragement. She hopes to bring that level of accessibility to the post and is particularly excited about working with Wyoming’s younger writers.
Nancy Curtis, owner of High Plains Press, said part of Frolander’s appeal is the accessibility of her clear, succinct language.
“I think people in Wyoming have always connected to the outdoors and to nature, and that’s in Pat’s poetry,” Curtis said.
“She is good with language, good at finding just the right words and making her poems as lyrical and smooth and memorable as she can.”
Frolander also works at her craft, Curtis said, striving to get better.
Each year, Curtis reads dozens of manuscripts, ultimately choosing three to publish. She rejected “Married Into It” the first time she read it. Frolander heeded Curtis’ advice and sent the manuscript back. Curtis published it early this year.
Frolander has tried other forms of writing, but she prefers poetry. She likes the way it takes readers to the core of the offering, in the most succinct way possible.
She writes in the morning, working at her computer from about 5 to 6:30 a.m., before the day’s chores. She doesn’t carry a notebook, she said, and doesn’t journal, though she sometimes wishes that she did.
“I can’t tell you how many lines were lost on the seat of a tractor,” she said. “Or moving cows.”