Wyo Poets History (1977-2017)
Prepared by Midge Farmer, Historian (1938 - 2017), May 24, 2010
and Myra L. Peak, Past President, May 26, 2017
The seeds of the organization now known as WyoPoets were planted in 1977 by Florence Rubert Rossi. She was the poet presenter at both the 1974 and 1977 Wyoming Writers, Inc. (WWI) conferences and encouraged us to organize the state’s poets and become the Wyoming branch of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS). She also helped us with the process and encouraged the NFSPS to accept us.
Carol “Babbie” Collins (then Caverly, now Hart) of Gillette, president of WWI 1977-78, appointed past president Midge Swartz (now Farmer) of Gillette to assemble NFSPS requirements and begin organizing Wyoming poets, which she did. She then constructed a proposal for NFSPS membership and sent it in the fall of 1977. It was evidently accepted, because an article in the January 1978 Strophes welcomed us into NFSPS. We were known as Poets of Wyoming Writers (PWW). Our dues were set to pay for Strophes for each member and mailing costs plus a little extra.
Midge continued her work as interim president in 1978 by constructing a constitution and by-laws for the new organization to comply with NFSPS rules. The articles were presented and approved at our annual meeting in Riverton June 1979 and were filed with the NFSPS.
For many years, Poets of Wyoming Writers met at (PWW) the annual June meeting of our parent organization, WWI, as part of the conference schedule which usually contained a poet presenter.
Until 1983, Poets of Wyoming Writers annually elected a president, vice-president/president elect, secretary and treasurer. At our June 1982 meeting, the members decided to ask if the WWI treasurer could also handle our finances in a separate account. WWI board and treasurer assented, and in 1983 we did not elect a treasurer.
We began discussing the publication of a book of poetry at our annual meeting June 1983 in Sundance. We also developed a list of what our members could do in their towns and areas to celebrate National Poetry Day October 15th. Our membership stood at about 40.
WWI published an anthology of prose writing, WINDSINGERS, in 1984. At the June 1985 Poets’ meeting in Worland, members discussed a companion book of poetry. A committee was formed with our PWW president David Mouat of Worland as chair, to write a proposal for WWI, which was accepted. The committee continued organizing the project with a call for manuscripts. It chose a most-qualified judge, Dr. Robert Roripaugh, to make the selections for the book. The committee met at least once more in Worland to work on layout, and in 1986, WORDWEAVERS was published. The poets included were all paid for their selected poems, a first for many--to be published and/or paid.
Midge, our organizer, served as WyoPoets’ secretary 1983-87, and started a one-page newsletter to mail out along with each Strophes. It became very popular with our widely dispersed members. Lou Layman, secretary 1987-88 continued the newsletter and asked for member suggestions for a name. A list of those was given to members for a vote and the name WYOPOETS was chosen. Charles Popovich of Sheridan wrote a poem using the letters in the name as the first letters of each line. Dawn Senior (now Senior-Trask), a visual artist as well as poet, drew a picture incorporating the poem which was used at the top of every newsletter.
At our annual meeting in Rock Springs June 1987, WWP president Janet Meury (Powell) recommended that we combine the offices of secretary and vice president, and that the president (who receives mailings from other poetry organizations) edit the newsletter to combine with Strophes mailings. Our treasury continued to be handled by WWI treasurer. Members voted in favor, then elected a president/newsletter editor and secretary/vice-president/president elect.
President Ginny Odenbach and Parliamentarian Midge Farmer worked to update our constitution and by-laws, and added in Standing Rules in 1991 after the membership voted to change our name to WYOPoets. This was finished in September 1991. Later, one more change of spelling of our name was made to WyoPoets, and so it remains.
In 1996, WyoPoets was formally separated from Wyoming Writers, Inc., although many members continue to belong to both organizations. That year we elected a president, a vice president/secretary, and a treasurer. Our membership was about 70.
A number of members gathered in Rawlins in November 1996 for “Novemberfest,” a poetry workshop and reading held in conjunction with the WyoPoets board meeting. Stan Gustafson (Rawlins), 1996-97 president hosted the event with John Nesbitt (Torrington) presenting the workshop.
We started celebrating April as Poetry Month when it was so designated nationally. Members since have made a special effort to bring poetry into their communities all over the state in April in many ways. We also have held our annual membership meeting/workshop/open mike readings for the public each April. We also continue to have a “leftover business” meeting at WWI conference each June.
Seven members of WyoPoets over the years have become Poet Laureates of Wyoming. Peggy Simson Curry (deceased) 1981 - 1987, Charles L. Levendosky (deceased) 1988 – 1995, Robert Roripaugh 1995 - 2003, Patricia Frolander 2011 – 2013, Echo Klaproth 2013 – 2015, A. Rose Hill 2015 – 2016, and Eugene M. Gagliano 2016 – present. David Romtvedt was Wyoming Poet Laureate from 2004 – 2011.
We have published eight chapbooks of poetry: If You Would Love Wyoming, 1993; Wyoming Journeys, 1995; Prairies, Peaks and Skies, 1998; Flint-Edged Refrains, 2000; Seasons of Wyoming, 2002; Whispers Down Wyoming Wind, 2005; Wyoming Paintbrush, 2007; and Distant Horizons, 2009, Weather Watch: Poems of Wyoming, 2014, and Labyrinth, 2016.
WyoPoets currently has 89 members with newsletter subscriptions maintained by two of Wyoming’s libraries. Our Web site was established in 2006 and can be accessed at wyopoets.org, wyopoets.com, and wyopoets.net.
As of the 2019 WyoPoets Spring meeting, our current president is Tom Spence of Buffalo, WY.