Anna Paige is an extraordinary person. With her, you can talk for hours and this time will fly by like a second. Anna is multifaceted, talented, witty, positive, inspiring... She is a writer, community programmer on Yellowstone Public Radio, co-founder of Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA), an adjunct professor of English at Montana State University Billings, writing instructor with Arts Without Boundaries, and a member of the Big Sky Writing Workshops.  JBN: At what age did you started to write? Anna Paige: I have written for a long time... As long as I can remember. I wrote terrible poetry (Anna smiles) as a teenager, and even in grade school I was writing. It was an outlet that I always had. I didn't think about doing it seriously until I went into journalism in college. I began focusing more on poetry after graduating. Poetry is a vehicle to express yourself concisely; it cuts the barriers down between people and allows us to really relate to one another in a visceral way—in a way that is intense and monetary and very beautiful. JBN: Is true that poetry is very popular here in Montana? Anna Paige: I was surprised by how many people were interested in poetry. About a year ago, we had an event called Pulitzer Out- Loud. We got a grant from Humanities Montana and the Pulitzer Foundation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize to create events around the Pulitzer. We did a reading of Pulitzer prize-winning poetry and had more than 200 people show up! We had all ages too, three generations from a grandmother to an infant! It was wild how many people of different ages and backgrounds showed up. We created BALA shortly after that because we wanted to have a vehicle for sharing literary opportunities in our community. That was sort of the catalyst and why BALA exists. We saw the hunger that this town had to engage in poetry, sharing stores and being together. JBN: So how you see your part in that process? Anna Paige: I believe very strongly in empowering people to share their voice and their truth through writing. Sometimes writing is a very solitary pursuit. That's why though BALA we created “write-ins,” which is an idea of coming together as a community to write and share work. We also started a monthly poetry open mic because there weren't as many stages where people could share their work. We have a very active slam poetry scene here, but it doesn’t allow for other voices that maybe were not ready or interested in competing. So, an open mic gives people a chance to share their work who have never been up to a mic before. We get people at an open mic who have only shared with their friends, or who have never shared with the public before. JBN: And as professor, what you teach to your students? Anna Paige: I teach writing 101. Everybody is expected to take it, and they have all kinds of different experiences with writing. I have people who have never really had a good relationship with writing. They were red-penned when they were younger and told what they were doing wrong. They were not necessarily encouraged and have lot of trauma around writing, because they think they are not good at it. I meet them where they’re at and help empower their relationships with writing. We do free-writing in my class, we engage a lot in arts and cultural conversations, and of course we focus on the basics of mechanics. But to me, it’s more about developing a relationship with writing than it is about creating a perfect research paper. They need to know those skills, but I think in order to make writing more enjoyable, they need to develop a relationship with it that they might not have had before. Writing is a powerful medium that can help you process really complex emotions. I also teach poetry to grade school children though the nonprofit Arts Without Boundaries. We go into the elementary schools for 12 weeks in the spring and teach poetry. They hear poetry read out loud, so they get to engage with published poets—everyone from Gallaway Kinnel to Sharon Olds to more contemporary poets, and then they write their own poetry based on a prompt from the poems. Then they read their poetry aloud. Through these three components, they begin to understand that they contain poetry within them, and they are just learning techniques to bring it out. JBN: And who is your favorite writer? Anna Paige: I spend a lot of time with female poets of the 50s and 60s, like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath. They were creating in such a tumultuous time for women, questioning their place in the household and women's roles in society. They used their poetry as vehicles to communicate taboo subjects, sexuality and even abortion and things that were not being talked about at that time—and they were being vilified for it. I find that these voices are incredibly bold and very visceral. I also love Sharon Olds, who is a more contemporary voice of this nature. And Mary Oliver—she is just of the earth. Her connection to the natural elements of the planet is strong, and when she shares her work, it feels like it’s a piece of us. We all come from the earth. I think that she communicates that really well. JBN: Do you have your style in poetry? Anna Paige: I've been trying to figure that out lately, because I'm more of a stage poet than a page poet. I've been working on some poetry for submission. Poetry, when it’s spoken out loud, has such a different existence and is very momentary. When it’s on the page, there's a different interaction and more permanence to it, so I’ve been trying to make my work more concise and more relative to the page.  JBN: And what topics are popular here between poetry writers? Anna Paige: Regarding my younger students who write each poetry ... Some of their favorite poems are “I come from” poems or poetry focusing on experiences that have had or things that they might have grown up with. As well, I teach seasonality poems where they focus on one particular aspect of nature. I like to bring Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating” into the classroom, and we use an actual blackberry to focus their poetry. Writing about a singular entity is challenging for them, especially young students who are not used to honing in on one particular item. They look at the blackberry and think, “Oh my gosh, how can I write so much about one thing?” And it push them use their senses. It teaches them how to write though all of their human capacities: sight, memory, touch, sensations… JBN: In my country, poetry writers love to use one special word or symbol until it become untasty... What about in Montana? Anna Paige: We have real original voice here. Because we have a lack of outside influences, we don’t mimic as much. We are pretty isolated here, so we kind of have to fight for what we have and what we build. And we have to support each other. JBN: Tell me more about “A Reading of Her Own.” Anna Paige: “A Reading of Her Own,” and actually the Billings Area Literary Arts model, came from our sister organization in Helena. We connected with the women who had created a literary organization called Helena Area Literary Arts (HALA). We met with co-founder Chelsia Rice and talked about collaborating to build literary arts and enhance writing opportunities in our own community. She said: “Here is my model, use it,” which is I think very honorable thing to do. People sometimes are so close to their projects and don't want anybody else to have them. Chelsia was doing “A Reading of Her Own” in Helena. The title comes from Virginia Woolf’s "Room of One’s Own." The idea is that we women need places to process the things what occur in our life. Chelsia found great success in hosting this reading event specifically for women, so we started hosting it here in Billings. The writers are all women or those who identify themselves as women. We want to create an inclusive environment for women's voices that allows the audience to connect to their experience. We open up the platform for anybody who wants to share her experience in non-fiction format, eight minutes or less. The stories are sometimes heavy, but others can be very funny and playful. The event features a variety of voices, ages, ethnicities, and experiences. Bringing their stories together and sharing them is powerful. And we don't hire writers, we instead take all the incomes of the events minus any minimal promotional expenses and give it to charity. Our first event's proceeds were sent to a project called Awakening Hope, which empowers women who are victims of sexual trafficking to get out of the trafficking circle. The next event provided money to Free Verse Writing Program, a project started in Missoula that brings writing teachers into Montana's youth detention centers to teach creative writing.  With BALA, I strongly believe that we are not in the business of crafting people stories, we are in business of creating space for people to share, and from that we also want to do good. The money that people are generally willing to give for that experience goes back to serving the community. And I will continue my work with BALA to provide those services. We will do it probably again in the spring or in early summer…
Johnson’s Billings News
Hosted by Johnson Computing
They are read.  We are Quoted!!!
Anna Paige: “We believe very strongly in empowering people to share their voice and their truth through writing”...
Interview
Photo by Ted Kim
Photo by Casey Page
A Pop-up Art and Poetry show, photo by Stan Parker
Writer Bailey Brown reads during A Reading on Her own, photo by Anna Paige
Anna Paige is an extraordinary person. With her, you can talk for hours and this time will fly by like a second. Anna is multifaceted, talented, witty, positive, inspiring... She is a writer, community programmer on Yellowstone Public Radio, co-founder of Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA), an adjunct professor of English at Montana State University Billings, writing instructor with Arts Without Boundaries, and a member of the Big Sky Writing Workshops.  JBN: At what age did you started to write? Anna Paige: I have written for a long time... As long as I can remember. I wrote terrible poetry (Anna smiles) as a teenager, and even in grade school I was writing. It was an outlet that I always had. I didn't think about doing it seriously until I went into journalism in college. I began focusing more on poetry after graduating. Poetry is a vehicle to express yourself concisely; it cuts the barriers down between people and allows us to really relate to one another in a visceral way—in a way that is intense and monetary and very beautiful. JBN: Is true that poetry is very popular here in Montana? Anna Paige: I was surprised by how many people were interested in poetry. About a year ago, we had an event called Pulitzer Out-Loud. We got a grant from Humanities Montana and the Pulitzer Foundation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize to create events around the Pulitzer. We did a reading of Pulitzer prize-winning poetry and had more than 200 people show up! We had all ages too, three generations from a grandmother to an infant! It was wild how many people of different ages and backgrounds showed up. We created BALA shortly after that because we wanted to have a vehicle for sharing literary opportunities in our community. That was sort of the catalyst and why BALA exists. We saw the hunger that this town had to engage in poetry, sharing stores and being together. JBN: So how you see your part in that process? Anna Paige: I believe very strongly in empowering people to share their voice and their truth through writing. Sometimes writing is a very solitary pursuit. That's why though BALA we created “write-ins,” which is an idea of coming together as a community to write and share work. We also started a monthly poetry open mic because there weren't as many stages where people could share their work. We have a very active slam poetry scene here, but it doesn’t allow for other voices that maybe were not ready or interested in competing. So, an open mic gives people a chance to share their work who have never been up to a mic before. We get people at an open mic who have only shared with their friends, or who have never shared with the public before. JBN: And as professor, what you teach to your students? Anna Paige: I teach writing 101. Everybody is expected to take it, and they have all kinds of different experiences with writing. I have people who have never really had a good relationship with writing. They were red-penned when they were younger and told what they were doing wrong. They were not necessarily encouraged and have lot of trauma around writing, because they think they are not good at it. I meet them where they’re at and help empower their relationships with writing. We do free-writing in my class, we engage a lot in arts and cultural conversations, and of course we focus on the basics of mechanics. But to me, it’s more about developing a relationship with writing than it is about creating a perfect research paper. They need to know those skills, but I think in order to make writing more enjoyable, they need to develop a relationship with it that they might not have had before. Writing is a powerful medium that can help you process really complex emotions. I also teach poetry to grade school children though the nonprofit Arts Without Boundaries. We go into the elementary schools for 12 weeks in the spring and teach poetry. They hear poetry read out loud, so they get to engage with published poets—everyone from Gallaway Kinnel to Sharon Olds to more contemporary poets, and then they write their own poetry based on a prompt from the poems. Then they read their poetry aloud. Through these three components, they begin to understand that they contain poetry within them, and they are just learning techniques to bring it out. JBN: And who is your favorite writer? Anna Paige: I spend a lot of time with female poets of the 50s and 60s, like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath. They were creating in such a tumultuous time for women, questioning their place in the household and women's roles in society. They used their poetry as vehicles to communicate taboo subjects, sexuality and even abortion and things that were not being talked about at that time—and they were being vilified for it. I find that these voices are incredibly bold and very visceral. I also love Sharon Olds, who is a more contemporary voice of this nature. And Mary Oliver—she is just of the earth. Her connection to the natural elements of the planet is strong, and when she shares her work, it feels like it’s a piece of us. We all come from the earth. I think that she communicates that really well. JBN: Do you have your style in poetry? Anna Paige: I've been trying to figure that out lately, because I'm more of a stage poet than a page poet. I've been working on some poetry for submission. Poetry, when it’s spoken out loud, has such a different existence and is very momentary. When it’s on the page, there's a different interaction and more permanence to it, so I’ve been trying to make my work more concise and more relative to the page.  JBN: And what topics are popular here between poetry writers? Anna Paige: Regarding my younger students who write each poetry ... Some of their favorite poems are “I come from” poems or poetry focusing on experiences that have had or things that they might have grown up with. As well, I teach seasonality poems where they focus on one particular aspect of nature. I like to bring Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating” into the classroom, and we use an actual blackberry to focus their poetry. Writing about a singular entity is challenging for them, especially young students who are not used to honing in on one particular item. They look at the blackberry and think, “Oh my gosh, how can I write so much about one thing?” And it push them use their senses. It teaches them how to write though all of their human capacities: sight, memory, touch, sensations… JBN: In my country, poetry writers love to use one special word or symbol until it become untasty... What about in Montana? Anna Paige: We have real original voice here. Because we have a lack of outside influences, we don’t mimic as much. We are pretty isolated here, so we kind of have to fight for what we have and what we build. And we have to support each other. JBN: Tell me more about “A Reading of Her Own.” Anna Paige: “A Reading of Her Own,” and actually the Billings Area Literary Arts model, came from our sister organization in Helena. We connected with the women who had created a literary organization called Helena Area Literary Arts (HALA). We met with co-founder Chelsia Rice and talked about collaborating to build literary arts and enhance writing opportunities in our own community. She said: “Here is my model, use it,” which is I think very honorable thing to do. People sometimes are so close to their projects and don't want anybody else to have them. Chelsia was doing “A Reading of Her Own” in Helena. The title comes from Virginia Woolf’s "Room of One’s Own." The idea is that we women need places to process the things what occur in our life. Chelsia found great success in hosting this reading event specifically for women, so we started hosting it here in Billings. The writers are all women or those who identify themselves as women. We want to create an inclusive environment for women's voices that allows the audience to connect to their experience. We open up the platform for anybody who wants to share her experience in non-fiction format, eight minutes or less. The stories are sometimes heavy, but others can be very funny and playful. The event features a variety of voices, ages, ethnicities, and experiences. Bringing their stories together and sharing them is powerful. And we don't hire writers, we instead take all the incomes of the events minus any minimal promotional expenses and give it to charity. Our first event's proceeds were sent to a project called Awakening Hope, which empowers women who are victims of sexual trafficking to get out of the trafficking circle. The next event provided money to Free Verse Writing Program, a project started in Missoula that brings writing teachers into Montana's youth detention centers to teach creative writing.  With BALA, I strongly believe that we are not in the business of crafting people stories, we are in business of creating space for people to share, and from that we also want to do good. The money that people are generally willing to give for that experience goes back to serving the community. And I will continue my work with BALA to provide those services. We will do it probably again in the spring or in early summer…
Johnson’s Billings News
Interview
Hosted by Johnson Computing
They are read.  We are Quoted!!!
Anna Paige: “We believe very strongly in empowering people to share their voice and their truth through writing”...
Photo by Ted Kim
Photo by Casey Page
A Pop-up Art and Poetry show, photo by Stan Parker
Writer Bailey Brown reads during A Reading on Her own, photo by Anna Paige