Poetry brings ranch woman state recognitionWritten by Christy Martinez
Sundance – “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,” said Wyoming Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming poet Pat Frolander’s work as he signed the executive order declaring the Black Hills rancher Poet Laureate of Wyoming.
Although Frolander has won several awards for her work and has been published in anthologies, literary reviews, magazines and newspapers, she says she didn’t ever expect to be appointed Wyoming’s Poet Laureate.
“Like many students of my era, I began writing in high school, but it was short-lived, and I didn’t start writing seriously until the late 1990s,” says Frolander. “After retiring from service on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, I turned my energy to writing about what has gone on with the ranch.”
Although she has written a few essays, she says poetry is her genre of choice, and that has led her to two books: “Grassland Genealogy” and the recently released “Married Into It.”
“Living on a ranch in Wyoming gives me a lot to write about,” she says, noting that also influences the publisher she chooses for her books. “I was looking for a regional publisher. It’s important for writers to look for a publisher that publishes work that fits what they’re doing.”
Finishing Line Press published Frolander’s first book, while High Plains Press of Glendo published her second, which features the artwork of Sarah Rogers on its cover.
In contrast to her poetry’s subjects – ranching and agriculture – Frolander came to Wyoming from large urban areas.
“I’m originally from Boston, Mass., and I lived much of my young adult life and the first seven years of marriage in Denver, Colo.,” says Frolander, who moved to her husband’s family ranch in northeast Wyoming in 1969. “Coming to the ranch was quite a culture shock.”
Of her first impressions of rural ranching, Frolander says she felt very isolated on the ranch she had only visited once before moving.
“In those days the ranch had a gumbo road, and it was a mile to the highway through five barbed wire gates, and I had three little children five and under,” she describes, adding that there was also a 17-party phone line. “I had come from a modern home in Denver, with all the modern appliances, and suddenly I could only get to town once a month in the winter.”
“It was very daunting, and my poor husband had more than his hands full taking care of the cattle and everything else on the ranch,” she says, but adds, “I knew before we moved here that it would be difficult.”
As she spent time on the ranch, Frolander says she learned to milk cows, raise baby chicks and take care of chickens and baby pigs and bum lambs.
“I was overwhelmed, and didn’t know how to do any of this, and I probably survived simply because I couldn’t breath and went from one thing to the next just to stay caught up,” she notes, saying that she learned how to operate machinery and more about the cattle side of the operation when the children were all in school.
The Frolanders’ children are the fifth generation on the family ranch. Their two daughters still live on the ranch with their families, and their son lives nearby and great-grandchildren live in Rapid City, S.D.
Speaking of those early experiences in agriculture, Frolander credits humor with saving their marriage and keeping her on the ranch.
“You have to learn to laugh at yourself, and you have to learn to take some things not so seriously, or they consume you, and I have a fabulous husband of almost 50 years who still makes me laugh,” she says.
Of her appointment to Poet Laureate, Frolander says she hopes to hold workshops around the state, as well as accept invitations to judge contests and speak at public events. In addition, she hopes to focus on young people and children at risk.
“I want to encourage their writing,” she says of her target audience. “That’s my hope, which is contingent on a lot of factors, but, in my mind, that’s what a Poet Laureate is all about – to promote a love of reading and/or writing poetry, and anything else related to the field of literature.”
Of the Poet Laureate ceremony in Cheyenne, Frolander says, “It was extremely exciting and humbling. Our Governor has an ag background, so it was particularly poignant when he spoke to my work.”
Frolander recognizes those who have helped with her writing, giving them credit for her success.
“No one in the area of writing finds a measure of success alone,” she says. “I have a fabulous writing group, the Bear Lodge Writers of Sundance, and I would not be Poet Laureate if not for them and my family – my husband has picked up so many chores and obligations to give me the time to write.”
“Most of my work is ag-oriented, simply because of the privilege of working in the profession, and I take my hat off to the people of this state who continue to make it the heart of the West,” she adds.