Wyoming Poets Laureate

Wyoming Poet Laureate Barbara Smith
Wyoming Poet Laureate Barbara Smith, above, and her latest book.

Putting and Name on It book cover

Last month we were lucky to attend the festivities at the annual Governor’s Arts Awards, in Cheyenne, when a handful of Wyoming people are honored each year for their contributions to arts and culture in our rocky state. It’s a high-end, festive evening—you can imagine hundreds of people around tables of eight in a big hotel ballroom and the sound they make as cocktail hour begins to take hold. Dinner was followed by brief videos about the awardees, a few quick speeches and a musical performance. By the end of the evening, we were hoarse from all that conversation.

But after dinner and before the speechmaking began, we were even luckier to hear three poems from Barbara Smith of Rock Springs, Wyoming’s current poet laureate (and winner of a Governor’s Arts Award in 2006). A longtime teacher and writer of poems, essays and stories, she’s held the laureate position—poet lariat, people sometimes call it in Wyoming—only since last fall. She grew up in North Dakota and Montana and taught English and writing at Western Wyoming College in Rock Springs for 38 years, retiring from there in 2007.

Her most recent book, Putting a Name on It, won the Wyoming Historical Society’s first-place award for poetry in 2023. The book talks a lot about people in the West. Some of them, like Barbara herself, are frank, kind, sometimes blunt yet unstuck-up in a Rock Springs sort of way. Others are angry at life or death; others are newcomers, distressed by what they find or don’t find here, or smitten by it. Others still—maybe most—know loss. You can hear the poet listening closely to them.

April is poetry month and a good time, therefore, to honor Wyoming’s poets. Barbara Smith is Wyoming’s ninth poet laureate. Here are the others, with links to more about them:

Read Peggy Simson Curry, Wyoming’s First Poet Laureate
Read Robert Roripaugh, Wyoming Poet Laureate 1995-2002