Wordsmiths of SW Montana: Greg Keeler

Greg Keeler is a sensible and serious poet who also happens to be laugh-out-loud funny,” says Tim Cahill, an author and friend of Keeler’s. According to Dave Quammen, another friend, “Greg has written lunatic masterpieces. He sings pretty good for such a big guy. He’s absolutely my favorite practitioner of whatever the hell it is he practices in all of America.” Keeler is the author of several collections of poems, including American Falls, A Mirror to the Safe, and Epiphany at Goofy’s Gas. He also wrote the widely acclaimed portrait of his late friend Richard Brautigan, Waltzing with the Captain, and a new memoir called Trash Fish. Greg is also a prolific painter with a passion for fishing and mushroom hunting.

OB: Does living in Montana influence your writing?
GK: Certainly Montana influences my writing of songs and poems. I write about the fish and the people and the mountains and the rivers, poems and songs, things that really strike me about Montana.

OB: What responsibilities do you have to your readers?
GK: It depends on what I’m writing; if it’s a play or a musical or other. I know that if I have to write a play for some players that tour around the rural parts of Montana, I try to make it in a way to get peoples’ interest and challenge whatever their beliefs may be, but not insult them. I try to entertain with my columns and not be too serious; I make fun of little concepts. I like to entertain and make people think about taking things less for granted. I like not only meeting peoples’ expectations, but glorifying them.

OB: What’s the biggest challenge in your writing career?
GK: I suppose it’s getting the hopes up about people liking what I write and the calling-through with the publisher. I have a whole lot of trouble promoting my work or even approaching anyone about it. One thing I have done is just singing songs; people then start wanting to hear me, and then they approach me about other things too, like writing articles, poetry and so on. But I guess the real obstacle is when they ask me to do it, I spend a lot of time doing it, and they get back to me and say, “Well, we don’t really wanna do it.” (laughs)

OB: What’s your daily writing regimen?
GK: Well it depends, I get in moods where writing doesn’t do it for me, but singing songs or painting sometimes change that. For magazines I write better when I know I have to meet a certain deadline. So, as far as when I can do things best is in the morning. I also have ADD so I take this prescribed medication (sort of amphetamine salt tablets, basically speed). I take my morning pill of speed (laughs), then I take some coffee and then I’m ready to go.

OB: Were you a bookworm as a kid?
GK: No, I wasn’t. But my father was an English professor and there were a lot of books on his shelf of American literature, so I was always fascinated with wild weird titles like The Octopus, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and Moby Dick. But as soon as I got older, you know, I learned that the books weren’t as exciting as their titles. At the same time I liked to read poetry. I was going around the house reading poetry aloud when I was in high school… A lot of my interest in literature comes from poetry and song lyrics.

OB: What are your main hobbies and avocations? 
GK: Fishing, hunting for mushrooms, cooking some, and hiking, although hiking includes fishing and hunting for mushrooms, I mean it’s part of it. I like to walk. I go for long walks in town or on trails.

OB: What profession other than writing would you like to participate in, and why?
GK: I don’t know. When I was in high school I was really interested in zoology, but then I did not want to deal with the statistics and the organic chemistry part. Actually I’m a professional teacher and the things I like to do as writing and painting and singing songs, playing guitar, I’m not sure I’d enjoy them if they were my profession. Well, if I were a professional writer like Dave Quammen for instance, I’d have to be able to pace myself to do the research and get into the writing. Well, it’s sometimes hard for me to separate or distinguish between hobbies (fishing, painting, singing etc.) and my profession. I like to bring it all into the classroom.

OB: How come the passion for singing and playing guitar?
GK: I started a long time before I got into books. As a child to get to sleep I used to roll back and forth and sing songs through my adolescence (an embarrassment for my family!). My parents got me a guitar when I was 14-15 because I wanted an instrument. Of course in the mid-1960s all kind of music was around and I’d listen in particular to Bob Dylan and get inspired. I put a harmonica on a coat hanger and started thinking like Dylan. That’s when I stopped singing myself to sleep.

Books by Greg Keeler
Trash Fish (2008)
Waltzing with the Captain: Remembering Richard Brautigan (2004)
Call of the Wild: The Art of Parks Reece (co-author, 2002)
Sea Widow's Journal: To a Fisherman Drowned (2000)
A Mirror to the Safe (1998)
Epiphany at Goofy’s Gas (1991)
Lament O’the Laundromat (1991)
Poetryman: Five Poems (1988)
American Falls: Poems (1987)
The Far Bank (1985)
Spring Catch (1982)
Close Before Striking: Poems (1972)