Subscribe for 17¢ / day

An arts nonprofit is raising money to publish previously unseen poems by the late Ed Lahey.

Lahey, the son of a Butte copper miner, became of the state's most recognized writers with his poetry collections, "The Blind Horses" and "Birds of a Feather," and his novel, "The Thin Air Gang."

His fellow poet, Mark Gibbons, said Lahey's fan base in Montana is "deep and wide," and has described him as "the old miner king of poetry."

Gibbons and the Drumlummon Institute, based in Helena, hope to publish a collection titled "Moving On." 

They need to raise $3,500 by Sunday, April 15. They've structured their Kickstarter campaign like a pre-order. If you pledge $25 or more, you'll receive a copy from the first printing of the book.

There are other options, too. For a "Letterpress Fan" donation of $25 or more, you'll receive a copy of a Lahey poem printed by the Territorial Press, owned by Drumlummon's executive director Aaron Parrett. He uses an old-fashioned letterpress with individually set letters. There are other perk packages, including more books, for larger donations.

During his lifetime, Lahey earned a reputation as a poet of working-class Butte.

Several of his poems, including "Gimp O'Leary's Iron Works," were published in "The Last Best Place," an influential 1988 anthology of Montana literature. His first collection, "The Blind Horses," won a First Book Award from the Montana Arts Council in 1979. He was getting ready to go to work cleaning a bar when he heard of the news in the Great Falls Tribune.

Lahey went several decades before 1999's "Apples Rolling On the Lawn." Artist Russell Chatham's Clark City Press published a 2005 complete collection, "Birds of a Feather," and his novel "The Thin Air Gang" in 2008. His only novel told the story of a bootlegging family, based on his own father, in Prohibition-era Butte. Later that year, he won the Montana Governor's Arts Award in literature.

Lahey died in 2011 in Missoula at age 74 after years of fading health. His friend and fellow poet Mark Gibbons sifted through the boxes of papers Lahey left behind, and ended up with about 40 that hadn't yet been published.

Gibbons began visiting Lahey in the late 1990s and found they had much in common. Both were hard-drinking, working-class poets whose fathers were Butte Irish union men. They became good friends up until Lahey's passing.

As Gibbons combed through the boxes of papers Lahey left behind, he began seeing poems he hadn't read before, and it's unclear when many of them were written. He believes many will "stand the test of time as some of his best work." Some are playful, and others are as personal and intimate as any of Lahey's poems, he said. Gibbons included some fragmentary, unfinished pieces of writing that he felt were worth preserving.

Lahey's family gave him the permission to find a publisher, and Parrett and Drumlummon signed on. They hope to publish "Moving On," which is named after one of the poems, in late 2018.

Gibbons provided a sample poem, dedicated to Lahey's wife, from the trove:

Night Shadows

(for Marylor)

When the evening

came at sea,

the fire on Alki Beach

sang in the damp firewood

like a whisper

The sand was white

and dark beneath us.

We huddled there in our

Salvation Army clothes

like night shadows

of the firelight

We thought of cafes

we had known,

fine dinners,

meals we wished

we could eat again.

We did not speak,

simply leaned hungrily

into one another.

The light danced around

as we drew closer.

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.