Monday, October 20, 2003

David Romtvedt – Buffalo, WY

Downtown Buffalo is dotted with galleries and coffee shops. It’s a cute little town within sight of the Bighorn Mountains to the west, and just past an endlessly beautiful 400 mile stretch of badlands and high prairie grasses.

At the post office, two men in identical outfits, cowboy boots, jeans, starched white shirts and baseball caps finger through their mail and talk about a guy they know who is coming back to live in Buffalo. “It’ll be good to see the old rascal,” one says.

Main Street is pretty much it, but it’s terrific. Chamber of Commerce, lots of parking. Friendly folks in front of their stores or homes, because here the small homes on North Main butt up against the furthest reaches of the central business area.

The weather is unseasonable, warm, headed to the 80s in late October, and everyone’s making use of it. At the Catholic Church in town a maintenance man rakes and then sweeps up some leaves that are slowly deserting the confused trees. It’s not uncommon for there to be snow here at this time of year, and the long and warm autumn has everything a little off-kilter.

I find David Romtvedt not at the front door waiting for my visit, but hollering to me from around the side, from a fence that encircles the two small and pretty homes he, his wife, and daughter call home. One they live in; the other is the guest house. (After my interview we stroll over to the guest house. It’s a miraculous little place with gorgeous hardwood floors, airy windows, soft, inviting beds, and on the front porch – inexplicably – a dozen pairs of fluffy slippers, duck slippers, cat slippers, one set in plaid.)

David and I sit on the back porch of the house they actually live in, and we talk in between petting Leo, a happy dog who does not quite understand why anyone would sit when there was a small orange football to be tugged, thrown, and chewed.

David’s work is full of this town and its environs. He lets the “prairie, mountain, and sky” of the place in all the time. And the poems that result are alive, vital, and steeped in place. In many ways, he’s a perfect poet for this project.

We talk about a few poets he knows who I’ve met, or plan to. He and I have already met online; he’s filled out a sort of pre-interview set of questions that I developed after my first month on the road, so I know a lot about what he has to say already. I follow up some of these points, but mostly we just chat out there.

When we’re done, we go out into the back yard and I shoot some 35mm shots of him in the typical ways, against a tree, sitting by some corn stalks that appear odd, more art than science, right in the middle of his back yard. Eleven stalks, I think.

As I’m leaving, he volunteers to walk me, mostly, I think, to see this 29 foot rolling home of mine. He, like many of the poets I’ve met, are intrigued by the practical elements of this project. How does one get to Wyoming, Washington, Wisconsin, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana and back?

Leo comes along, and when we get to the motorhome, Leo is the first to bound in. My wife is glad to see us all. David looks around. I try to explain that the place is bigger when the slide outs are fully extended, but he likes it anyway. Leo is up front by the driver’s seat and I’m thinking that he looks pretty comfortable. Does he know we’re going into Montana now? Does he want to go? Could he help with the driving? Does he know the way?