Seeley Swan Pathfinder -


By Andi Bourne

Expanding the Classroom – Broadening the Audience


"Backroads of the Mind" is the first literary journal produced by Seeley-Swan High School. It is available at Cory's Valley Market and the Grizzly Claw Trading Company for $12.

SEELEY LAKE - Expanding students' view of wildness, sense of place and wilderness through literature and reading is something Seeley-Swan High School (SSHS) English teacher Lori Messenger strives for. This year, with the help of a $1,000 grant from the University of Montana's Matthew Hanson Endowment Fund of the Montana Community Fund, she and her creative writing students were able to produce the first SSHS literary journal entitled "Backroads of the Mind." The journal is available at Cory's Valley Market, Messenger or any of the creative writing students for $12.

As a part of the process to create the journal, the creative writing class took Friday field trips in the fall to Lake Elsina and Monture Creek where they hiked and wrote. This spring, they went for a raft trip on the Blackfoot River, partially funded by the Blackhawk's Booster Club and the Seeley Lake Community Foundation, with Missoula Writing Collaborative writer Chris Dombrowski doubling as their poetry instructor and rafting guide.

Throughout the school year, each student also chose a "sit spot" on Morrell Creek that spoke to them in the backyard of SSHS. They returned each week to write about the changes that they saw through the progressions of the seasons and what they were thinking and feeling at the time.

"They were kind of blown away by how many things they saw change in this little place right outside their school," said Messenger. "I really wanted them to get a sense of that kind of relationship with the place they are spending so much time for these four years instead of just inside the classroom."

Students from the whole student body were encouraged to submit writings and artwork. Creative writing teacher Lori Messenger and art teacher Danni Parcell both required their students to submit a piece for the journal. Students could submit up to three writings, pieces of artwork or some combination for consideration.

Messenger's creative writing class of eight comprised the editorial board that selected the submissions that would be printed.

While they used Big Sky High School's literary journal Aerie as a template and example, they developed their own process on how submissions would be chosen for print.

The first criterion was all of the submissions had to tie to wilderness.

In the note to readers, Kaelin Reiley and Elizabeth Done wrote, "The challenge came in deciding what 'wildness' meant to us. When you live somewhere like Seeley Lake, you live in a place that everyone thinks of as wild. So how do you know what it is? Our class agreed that 'wildness' was more than just trees and mountains; that it is an experience that is raw, complicated and something you don't associate with being domestic."

If the work submitted reflected the theme, then the board talked through each of the art pieces choosing only those that were the quality they were looking for. Twelve art submissions, including photography, were chosen for the journal.

Three photos by professional photographer John Mercer were also included in the journal. Mercer's daughter Lily was in the creative writing class in the fall. Mercer joined them during their field trip to Lake Elsina last fall to help document the learning. They choose to use the photos because "it showed us at work outside and we felt that was important," said Messenger.

The written submissions ranged from short stories to poetry. After breaking into teams, reading all of the works and then coming back together to discuss, the editorial board decided on 18 written pieces, all but one were poems.

"We decided we weren't just willing to take anything to get the page numbers [hoping for a 75-page journal], so we chose to make it very small," said Messenger.

Students who were chosen for the journal provided a biography which is at the end of the book, listed under contributors.

Senior Eliana Robinett produced the book as a part of her graphic design independent study. With the help of her advisor Katrina Stout, she worked side-by-side with the editorial board to produce "Backroads of the Mind." It is loosely organized by the seasons starting with autumn.

Eliana Robinett

The Editorial Board that made the selections for the journal. Back (L-R): Elizabeth Done, Quinton Johnson, Cora Grube, Darrian Conley & Mitchell Parcell. Front (L-R): Jenna Colby, Kaelin Reiley & Sally Johnson.

"It was a really positive experience and the students are pretty motivated by it," said Messenger. "I think their eyes were really opened about how much work it is to produce something even this small."

Messenger also added that the submission and selection process was important adding the element of competition in writing. And by creating a publication, students were writing to a real audience.

"I think these two things really changed students' idea about how you produce a piece of writing for publication and take it to that next stage," said Messenger.

The students plan on producing another literary journal next spring in conjunction with the 2017 Norman Maclean Festival. While this journal was debuted at the SSHS Spring Concert, the 2017 journal will not be unveiled until the festival in the fall.

"I think students are really proud," said Messenger. "Students are starting to think of themselves as writers and the creative writing students see themselves as a part of a community of writers that help each other, learn from each other and grow with each other."


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