icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

The Poetry Page

Poetry by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Linda "handles words the way she handles cattle, with a hard love that grows from her daily, working familiarity with the austere life of western Dakota around the Black Hills. Though far from tranquil, her poems have an impressive beauty..."
-- from a book review by Dave Pichaske, Spoon River Poetry Press

What's Here?

The Books:


Walking: the Changes

Published 2023

Poetry by Linda M. Hasselstrom; photographs by James W. Parker.

Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky
Published 2017
Contains the text of Dakota Bones plus 50 new poems.

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet
Published 2011
A book of poems (half of them written by Linda and half by her co-author, Twyla M. Hansen)

Bitter Creek Junction
Published 2000.
Also available as a limited edition hardcover.
Audiobook of Bitter Creek Junction --- Listen to Linda read the complete book on cassette. CDs are sold out, sorry.

Dakota Bones
Published 1993
The collected early poems of Linda M. Hasselstrom.

When a Poet Dies
Published 2006
A special limited edition from Red Dragonfly Press. (An earlier edition printed in 2004 sold out.)

Other Poetry Odds and Ends:

How Thinning Radishes Applies to Your Writing --- some writing suggestions for your poetry and journals.
Includes Linda's little-seen poem "1971: Establishing Perpetual Care at the Locust Grove Baptist Cemetery."

Letter Presses and My First Published Book --- Linda describes how a letter press works, comes clean about her true first published book, and offers a prize if you know the title of the book.

The Joys of Memorizing Poetry --- An essay by Linda about the pleasure of breaking into verse.

Running With Scissors --- A story about the poem Lost and Found and the artwork it inspired.

Performing vs. Reading Poetry --- An essay by Linda about getting the attention of your audience.

Linda's Poetry on the Internet:

Go to the Linda Online Page of this website by clicking here.
A list of links to websites where you can find more information about Linda, read some of her poems or interviews, watch video or listen to audio clips of Linda reading her work.

back to top

The Books

Walking: the Changes


Poetry by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Photographs by James W. Parker
Published 2023
115 pages
size 8.5 x 8.5


$29.95 -- paperback
ISBN: 978-0-917624-08-7

Walking: the Changes


 Linda M. Hasselstrom and James W. Parker, both South Dakotans, find stories everywhere in the prairies and hills. Here are two poets: one with words, one with photographs, collaborating to show their love and understanding of western South Dakota, creating a book filled with compassion, humility, and gentle humor.

--- Ann Haber Stanton

Author of "Deadwood's Jewish Pioneers"



All About the Book --- Read some behind-the-scenes details about this book: comments and reviews, notes about content, information on the book cover photos, table of contents, and more.

Go to the "All About the Book" webpage for Walking: the Changes.

Walking: the Changes

Poetry by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Photographs byJames W. Parker

Published 2023 by Lame Johnny Press

$29.95 – paperback
ISBN: 978-0-917624-08-7

115 pages; size: 8.5 X 8.5

Order Books from:


You may purchase a signed copy from me for $29.95 plus $5 shipping

Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa, South Dakota 57744


back to top



Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky – Collected and New Poems

Published 2017
240 pages
size 5.5 x 8.5

$14.95 -- paperback
ISBN: 978-0944024-72-0

Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky -- Collected and New Poems

The original edition of Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom was published by Spoon River Poetry Press in 1993. This new and expanded edition contains all of the original poems plus 50 new poems-- an accumulation of poems from many years. In 2011 Linda published 50 new poems in Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet with Twyla M. Hansen, now Nebraska’s Poet Laureate. Some of the poems in Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky predate those in Dirt Songs; some were published in periodicals but had not previously appeared in book form.

All About the Book --- Read some behind-the-scenes details about this book: comments and reviews, notes about content, information on the book cover photos, table of contents, and more.

Go to the "All About the Book" webpage for Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky.

Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky --- Collected and New Poems

Poetry, Published 2017 by Spoon River Poetry Press

$14.95 – paperback
ISBN: 978-0944024-72-0
240 pages; size: 5.5 X 8.5

Order Books from:

You may purchase a signed copy from me for $14.95 plus $5 shipping

Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa, South Dakota 57744

back to top


Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet

by Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom
Published 2011
147 pages
size: 6 X 9

$16.00 – paperback
ISBN 978-1-935218-24-1

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet
by Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom

Linda and Twyla, a poet from Nebraska, collaborated on a book of poetry about farming, ranching, and living in the west. The first part of the book contains 50 poems by Twyla and the second part of the book contains 50 poems by Linda.

Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom reflect the prairie’s influence in these masterful poems, celebrating sky and water and soil, and their love of all things green and blooming, feathered and furred, farm and ranch, wild and domesticated, warm and breathing.

What Twyla says About the Book:
Linda and I are greatly influenced by our upbringing and on-going involvement in the rural areas of eastern Nebraska and western South Dakota. We have known and admired each other’s writing for a number of years, and recently came up with the idea of putting together a duo collection loosely based on the theme of farm and ranch, resulting in this two-part collection.

All About the Book --- Read some behind-the-scenes details about this book: Q&A with Linda, notes about content, information on the book jacket photo, and more.

Click here to go to the Dirt Songs webpage.

Award Winner!
Winner of the 2012 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry (sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book).
Women Writing the West 2012 WILLA Award Finalist (runner-up) in the poetry category
High Plains BookFest 2012 Book Award Finalist (runner-up) in the poetry category (sponsored by The YMCA Writer's Voice and Parmly Billings Library)

Click here for a webpage about Linda's awards and honors.

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet
by Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom

Poetry, Published 2011 by The Backwaters Press
147 pages; size: 6 X 9

$16.00 – paperback
ISBN 978-1-935218-24-1

For Book Orders and More Information About the Book:

The Backwaters Press
Greg Kosmicki, Editor/Publisher
3502 North 52nd Street
Omaha, NE 68104-3506
(402) 451-4052
(submit manuscripts by invitation only)
website: The Backwaters Press

back to top


Bitter Creek Junction

Published 2000
72 pages
size: 6 X 9

$12.95 – paperback with full color jacket
ISBN 0-931271-53-3

Also available as a limited-edition hardcover.

Available for Collectors!

$30.00 – hardcover limited edition
ISBN 0-931271-54

212 signed, numbered copies; no jacket.

72 pages
size: 6.25 X 9.25

The limited edition hardcover (shown here) is dark purple with gold lettering.
It looks much better in person!

As of mid-year 2012 Linda has copies numbered #109 through #112, and #114 through #116 (out of 212 copies) of the limited edition hardcover of Bitter Creek Junction.
High Plains Press may have some copies still available as well.

Bitter Creek Junction

The West found in these poems is neither the mythical Old West nor the New West of ranchettes and trophy homes. Whether “Making Chokecherry Jam” joined by spirits of departed grandmothers; rethinking a thirty year old vow in “The Empty Highway, The Unwritten Poem;” seeing the humor in an “International Incident” at a prairie dog town; or confronting the darkness, violence and abuse lingering in “Bitter Creek Junction” and elsewhere, Linda’s aria is set to the rhythms of the authentic West, laced with lyrical realism, and distilled to the sharp crispness of a plains morning.

All About the Book --- Read some behind-the-scenes details about this book: Q&A with Linda, notes about content, information on the book jacket photo, recording the audiobook, and more.

Click here to go to the Bitter Creek Junction webpage.

Award Winner!
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum: Wrangler Award for best poetry book, 2000.
Wyoming State Historical Society: Fine Arts Award, 2000.
Women Writing the West: Willa Award Finalist (runner-up), 2001.

Click here for a webpage about Linda's awards and honors.

Please note: This book is still available on audiocassette, read by the author; see below. The CDs of this book are sold out.

Perhaps someday we'll make a digital file available for download if there is enough interest.

Bitter Creek Junction

Poetry, Published 2000 by High Plains Press

$12.95 – paperback with full color jacket
ISBN 0-931271-53-3
72 pages; size: 6 X 9

$30.00 – hardcover limited edition
ISBN 0-931271-54
212 signed, numbered copies; no jacket.
72 pages; size: 6.25 X 9.25

Order Books from:

High Plains Press
P.O. Box 123
Glendo WY 82213
phone: (307) 735-4370
or (800) 552-7819
Fax: (307) 735-4590
website: www.highplainspress.com

back to top


Audiobook of Bitter Creek Junction

Hear Linda's interpretation of her own poetry.

The entire text of the book read by the author;
color insert with table of contents.

Cassette tape FREE!
Free with purchase of any book.
Free if you pay shipping.

Just ask us.

Sorry, the CD is sold out

No ISBN number

cassette size: 2.75 X 4.25

Book on Tape: Bitter Creek Junction

The entire text of the book read by the author, Linda M. Hasselstrom.

"...Nobody writes better than Linda Hasselstrom about the grinding chores, economic instability, and deep satisfactions of contemporary ranching. But in these poems, Hasselstrom goes beyond branding and mending fences....Here the old west and the new cohabit uneasily." [Edith Rylander, author of Dancing Back the Cranes]

Please note: For more information on this title, including its list of awards, see write-up, above.

If you would like a free cassette tape let us know. We can include it with any book purchase or send it to you for the cost of media mail shipping.

Sorry, the CD is sold out

Distributed by:
Windbreak House (with High Plains Press)
P.O. Box 169
Hermosa, SD 57744
voice mail: (605) 255-4064
website: www.windbreakhouse.com
e-mail: info@windbreakhouse.com

back to top

Dakota Bones

Published 1993; reprinted
166 pages
size: 5½ X 8½

$9.95 – paperback
ISBN 0-944024-23-8

Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom

Here are Linda’s observations on the past, present and future of her life in the West, touching on local history (“Homesteading in Dakota”), her childhood (“Tomboy”), ranching (“Rancher Roulette”), living on the land (“Now I Know Grouse”), lessons learned from older relatives (“Handbook to Ranching”), and the unanticipated changes in her life (“Walking the Dog”).

Dakota Bones contains the complete texts of Linda’s earlier work, Caught By One Wing (1984, reprinted 1990) and Roadkill (1987), both out of print, plus about 30 pages of new poems, including the perennial favorite, “Mulch.”

With preface, alphabetical index of poem titles, and author biography.

All About the Book --- Read some behind-the-scenes details about this book: Q&A with Linda, notes about content, information on the book jacket photo, and more.

Click here to go to the Dakota Bones webpage.

Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom

Poetry, Published 1993 by Spoon River Poetry Press; reprinted
166 pages; size: 5½ X 8½

$9.95 – paperback
ISBN 0-944024-23-8

Book Orders:

Plains Press (formerly Spoon River Poetry Press)
Box 6
Granite Falls, MN 56241
(507) 537-6463
or (612) 564-2424
e-mail: Pichaske@southwest.msus.edu

back to top

When a Poet Dies


This edition published 2006

16 pages
size: 6.5 x 5.25


No ISBN number

When a Poet Dies

When a poet dies
nothing happens.

A lesser poet
breakfasting on coffee
and a cherry strudel
picks up a newspaper,
turns pages to pass time.
After breakfast she will sit down to write.

Thus begins the one-poem book "When a Poet Dies."

This is a tribute to the poet William Stafford (Jan 1914--Aug 1993), but it’s also just a darn good story about poets and how they affect the world.

This is a limited edition printed from Melior type on Fox River Olde white vellum, hand-pressed by Scott King of Red Dragonfly Press-- a “micro-press” affiliated with the Anderson Center, Minnesota.

When a Poet Dies

Poetry, This edition published 2006 by Red Dragonfly Press
website: www.reddragonflypress.org

16 pages; size: 6.5 x 5.25

No ISBN number

The first printing in 2004 sold out. This second printing, done in 2006, is a slightly more humble version. 220 copies were printed, though the colophon states 250 copies-- according to Scott King, that line was cast before the paper was counted. Oops.

Order Books from:

Linda M. Hasselstrom Books
PO Box 169
Hermosa SD 57744
(605) 255-4064
website: www.windbreakhouse.com
email: info@windbreakhouse.com

Some sharp-eyed readers have discovered one typo in the 2004 edition and two (different) typos in the 2006 edition. Can you find them?

back to top

Other Poetry Odds and Ends

Use those thinnings!
Linda Hasselstrom in the garden, spring 2011.

How Thinning Radishes Applies to Your Writing

an original essay for this website by Linda M. Hasselstrom

I planted radishes in my greenhouse in mid-March, partly to see how early I could be eating them. Several inches tall now, they are clearly too close together, so I pulled some. Instead of composting them, I washed them and added them to my salad for the day.

And it struck me that, as usual, I was recycling wherever I can. In the same way, I rarely throw away any bit of writing. Not everything can be reconstituted and brought back to a useful life, but you never can be entirely sure. So I keep paragraphs, even lines that come out of poems.

On my computer, I divide my poetry files, for example, this way:



Some of the notes are ancient, ideas that once seemed viable for a poem, but which have never actually been completed. Once I’ve worked on the idea enough so that it assumes a poetic shape, begins to become lines, it moves to the “drafts” folder. Each time I work on a poem, I copy it as it was the last time I worked on it, move that draft up a page, and insert it. Then I change the date, and add the corrections. When I finish the poem, the drafts file contains every version of it I’ve done: pages and pages of changes. I keep some of those files for awhile; I’ve printed some out so students could see how revision can work. I may change a single word or a comma from one draft to the next, though the dates may be weeks apart.

I move finished poems to the “completed” folder, and study them hard for a week or more. Sometimes they go back to being drafts as my view of them changes. Once the poem is published, it moves to the “published” folder, and perhaps eventually to the “books” folder. I trace nonfiction the same way.

And sometimes keeping these fragments of the past works: my upcoming collection of poems, Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet with Twyla Hansen, will contain two poems I started writing in 1971: FORTY YEARS AGO! If I were to try to recapture, without notes, the precise emotions that led me to try to write the poems then, I would be hampered by unclear memories, changes in the way I believe and live. But I made the notes then, and in my papers they remained hot with emotion, filled with observed details I probably could not resurrect today without help. And the poems evolved: perhaps it took me forty years to truly understand what they were meaning to say.

What else might be considered “thinnings” that might instead be useful to you? How about that solitary lunch, eaten glumly while you are surrounded by chattering couples and families. Take notes: copy conversations and overheard jokes; describe the people you see; compare or contrast the menu’s description with the actual food you are served. These are the kinds of details that make a novel “realistic,” that make nonfiction ring with truth, because they ARE real.

In order to make them most useful, consider indexing your journals: leave a page or two in the front blank, and note there descriptions or comments you might want to find again.

Daily journaling is, in fact, mostly “thinnings.” But if you are writing every day, even if much of what you write is what you fix for lunch or the frustration of trying to get your daughter to look at you when she speaks, you are still expressing yourself, going through the act of writing every day.

Here’s one of the poems from 1971; no doubt both of the people named are dead by now. After leaving my first husband for the first time, I lived in an apartment an older woman had created in her house across from a packing plant. I had my own kitchen next to hers, with an adjoining bathroom, and a bedroom in the attic. Until I resumed work on this poem a couple of years ago, I hadn’t quite realized some of the decisions I made as part of that experience. I didn’t divorce my first husband for another 4 years, and I’m glad I never gave up on this poem.

1971: Establishing Perpetual Care
at the Locust Grove Baptist Cemetery

A knock at the front door
echoes in the landlady’s empty hall
tinkles past the crystal in the cabinet,
drums across her kitchen floor to mine.
She’s not home. Whoever it is will come
to my door next. I stretch,
drop the pen and fill the kettle.
Light the stove with a wooden match.

A stooped man in a black suit
rounds the corner, dust rising
behind his cane with every step.
Ancient sweat stains streak
the band of his straw hat
like layers in old sandstone.
He shuts the gate behind him.
Thumps the door four times
with a rugged fist.
Straightens his shoulders.

I snap the bolt open,
but stay behind the locked screen door.
“Good afternoon,” I say.

He pinches his hat with
two gnarled fingers, lifts, and says,
“Good day, Ma'am. I'm Walter Mathis
from up at Locust Grove.”
He hangs the cane on one arm,
mops his forehead with a red kerchief,
tucks it in a shirt pocket. “Does Mrs.
Notye Murray still live here?”

He’s afraid she’s dead.
“Yes,” I say. Adding the “Sir”
is automatic, involuntary even.
“That’s her door you knocked on.”

“She's not home, then,” he says,
nodding. Just what he thought.
He squints, leaning toward the screen.
“You her granddaughter?”

“No sir, just a tenant– I rent
this back apartment,” I say.
Because it’s cheap, I think; because
I’ve left my husband
and have no money and no credit.
“When she goes out in the afternoon,
she's always back by dark,” I say.
“Unless it’s her whist night. But that’s Thursday.”

He leans back on his heels,
rapping the cane against the concrete step.
Eyes the packing plant fence
like he's tempted to get the hammer
and a fistful of nails out of the tool box
I know is behind the pickup seat,
fix the blasted thing so it’ll stand up straight.
“Well,” he mutters. “Let me think.”
He yanks the hat brim down.

I unlock the screen door, step outside
to say, “She might be home earlier.
I’m not real sure where she was going
but if she went for poke salat
and lambs quarters,
she might be home pretty soon.”

“Cooks ‘em up with bacon, I bet,”
he says, grinning. “Bet you never had
vittles like that, beings you are a northern lady.”
He nods. Another thing he knew
without even thinking.
I nod right back at him. The cane
pounds once more on the step.
His mind’s made up. “Well.
I gotta be gettin back to Locust Grove
so you tell Notye-- you tell Miz Murray for me.
We gotta get goin on this perpetual care
for the cemetery up there. Us old-timers,
we figure maybe the next generation
won't be as interested in the folks there.
But her and me, we got close folks--
she's got her ma and pa and husband up there
and all my folks are together in that one spot.”

I nod again. Now I remember who I am,
even if I don’t know where.
I can see the cemetery in my home town,
where once I could imagine
my husband’s tombstone with mine beside it,
infinitely announcing our devotion.

He shoves the hat to wipe
his forehead on his sleeve,
yanks the brim back down. Nods again.
“Well, I live right by the cemetery, don’t ya know.
Me an’ Howard Breedlove and Walt Kinsolving--
that's my son-in-law-- we all got together
cause folks been wanting to give me money
so there'd be some kind of continual care.
And I figgered if I just took money
even if I put it in a bank,
pretty soon some bank examiners'd
want to know what I'm doin,
and pretty soon after that
the income tax people
would come a'sniffin around.

So we formed an association. I'm president.
Yep. Howard Breedlove's treasurer.
I come down here today to get papers
drawed up and signed. And I wanted to tell her
if she wants to send a check
to make it out right, to make it out to
The Locust Grove Baptist Cemetery Association.
I always mow the lawn, mowed it
seven times last year, charged forty dollars
an they paid me OK, but the year before
I mowed it ten times an there wasn't
enough money in the treasury to pay me
so I just give 'em the last one.
I lived there all my life and all my folks
are buried there. I usually got
some grandchildren to help me.
About your size."

Walter Mathis waves his cane,
redeems me as his grandchild.
I’m ready to follow him home
to Locus Grove, learn to cook
poke salat just the way he likes it.

“Here now, you tell Miz. Murray
I come by and to make the check out
Locust Grove Baptist Cemetery Association.”
He tips his hat again. “Good day to you, ma’am.”

The kettle’s boiling. While Walter’s 1953 Ford pickup
lumbers down the street, I pour my tea,
take the cup upstairs and lean to look
out the bedroom window, to watch
until Walter Mathis turns left
on the gravel road out of town,
headed back to Locust Grove.
I sip my tea and know it’s time
I headed home
where people recognize me,
where the cemetery dust
is folks I knew.

* * *

Linda M. Hasselstrom
April 23, 2011
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

# # #

This poem was printed as an illustration of a point in an interview, “Poet of the Wind: An Interview with Linda Hasselstrom,” Lee Ann Roripaugh, South Dakota Review, Summer 2001, Vol. 39, No. 2.

back to top

Caught By One Wing. Not my first published book after all.

Letter Presses and My First Published Book

an original essay for this website by Linda M. Hasselstrom

When I make a list of books I have had published, I usually list my book of poems Caught By One Wing as my first book of poems.

But now it’s time to come clean, and not just because people in South Dakota have great research skills and long memories.

At least one alert South Dakota librarian has a copy of my true first book. And recently I received a letter from Leonard Andera, an attorney from Chamberain who was a journalism professor when I attended the University of South Dakota beginning in 1962. He recalled my real first book, and like the librarian, owns a copy he intends to keep.

So here’s the story. After I graduated from the University of South Dakota with a BA in English and Journalism, I intended to become a professional journalist. I spent a year working the night side of the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal. (Intriguingly, this is where the father of South Dakota’s poet laureate, David Allan Evans, worked as a typesetter.) I loved the smell of hot lead that permeated the building. For that year, I lived in Sioux City and drove to classes at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion every day.

During that time, I also wrote, typeset, printed, and bound my first book of poems, using a clamshell-type press.

Letterpress printing is printing in relief; that is, the text and image are reversed and raised above the surface of the press, inked, and then pressed into a sheet of paper to create a positive image. Johannes Gutenberg invented the method in the 15th century, and it was the primary means of printing until the 19th; these days, only a relatively few dedicated individuals operate letterpresses, producing gorgeous books on paper that is often also handmade. Letterpress books are art, no matter what their words say; the texture of the paper combines with the smell of the ink and the shape of particular fonts of type to create a beautiful publication.

I wanted to learn the fine art of letterpress printing. Mr. Andera had a hand-fed press, and he encouraged me, as a special project for a class, I believe, to use it to produce a book.

Handset type is selected, piece by piece-- letter by letter, punctuation mark by punctuation mark-- from a box in which it is logically arranged. The same arrangement has been used since type was invented, so far as I know. The first step in hand-setting type is to memorize the location of every single piece of type and spacer-- hundreds of them. (Letterpress, like most professions, has its own lingo; “pica poles,” “spacers,” “type sticks,” the “proof press.” I taped the layout of the box in which handset type was kept to the steering wheel of my 1954 Chevrolet, and memorized the letters while I rumbled up the Interstate. [The original texting while driving! -- website editor.]

Each line of type is set separately. The compositor selects each letter or spacer from the box and places it in the type stick, always held in the left hand. Each letter must be placed backwards and upside down so that it will read correctly when it is printed. I studied the layout until I could set type in the type stick blindfolded in a blizzard. This is not a skill that does me much good in the computer era.

Once a line of type was assembled, it was locked into the place it would occupy on the page. Then each page was locked into the press and inked with a hand roller. The press we used was a platen press that opened and closed like a clamshell. The speed was adjustable. As the press opened, the printer slipped in a blank sheet before the top closed, then pulled it out as the top opened and slipped in another one before the top plate descended again. I vividly remember how carefully I had to reach into the press to remove one sheet and then insert the next before the jaws of the press slammed together. Many of the people I later met who had worked with hand-fed presses all their lives were missing the tips of a couple of fingers. Each blank sheet of paper had to be precisely positioned in order to print correctly.

The amount of type in a particular font was never enough to set an entire book at once. As a page was set, it was printed, and then the type had to be redistributed into the type case so that the next page could be assembled.

During 1965, I wrote, composed (that is, set all the type by hand) and printed the pages of my book on his hand-fed press. Once the pages were printed, I gathered, folded, and bound them by a method called saddle stitching. This, too, was done on a machine: once the pages were gathered, the book was opened in the center, put on a triangular frame, and the machine stapled through all the thickness at once.

My first book was then officially “in print.” I gave away copies to friends; I don’t believe I sold any.

Leonard Andera taught me so much while we were creating that book-- not just about printing, and handset type, and all the fascinating historic details, but about patience and craft. And the process created in me a lifelong love of letterpress. I’ve had two collections of letterpress books, and given both to deserving institutions that wished to preserve examples of this rare craft.

I now have a small third collection at my retreat house so that I can explain the process to writers. I’ve visited dozens of letter presses, had many conversations with letterpress people, bought dozens of books, admired hundreds-- and vowed to support them whenever I can. One of my books, I am proud to say, When a Poet Dies, was first published in a letterpress edition by Red Dragonfly Press, the press-in-residence at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota.

What’s the most important reason I want to admit to writing that first book? At the time the librarian contacted me, I was embarrassed about the quality of the poems and tried to talk her out of her copy. Now, though, my opinion has changed. The poems aren’t very good, but as I wrote in the introduction to Dakota Bones: “to change published work would be to edit the self and the writer I was then in the light of what I know now. In ten more years I might do it again; by the time I die, it might appear I’d never written a truly horrible poem....”

Particularly now that I work every week with writers, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that writing is a seamless process, or a matter of talent alone. Learning to write well is slow, laborious work as you write and revise a lot of rough drafts. I don’t try to remove early work from the public eye anymore; reading a truly awful poem by a writer who’s been lucky to be published as often as I have may be just the encouragement someone needs to produce his or her own truly great piece of writing.

So if you have a copy of my real first book of poems and send me a postcard with its title, I’ll send you at no cost a copy of the cassette tape of my book of poems, Bitter Creek Junction or a signed, personalized peel-and-stick bookplate. (Tell me which you prefer.)

Linda M. Hasselstrom
August 2009
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

# # #

back to top

The Joys of Memorizing Poetry

The sun that brief December day
rose cheerless over hills of gray.

Work is piled on my desk, but I’m distracted because Diane Sylvain just wrote an article in High Country News that I wish I’d written. Only I couldn’t have; that’s the beauty of writing: only you can write what you might write. Or, as someone else put it, “The poem you do not write, no one else will ever write it.” No, I have no idea who said that; I memorize the words, not necessarily the names.

Diane writes (in High Country News, December 6, 2010, p. 29) of the joys of memorizing poetry, and the strange looks she sometimes gets while reciting it to herself. She notes that a coworker in her 20s was never encouraged to memorize poetry and now wishes she had. Diane isn’t sure her teachers required memorization either, but remarks that poetry seemed to stick in her brain.

Nor did my teachers require me to memorize-- but I had fine examples of what happens when you do. Both my mother and father were apt to break into verse appropriate for the situation at any time. If I complained about chores or homework, Mother said, "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

Every time the sky grew gray and flakes began to fall, my father would quote lines from “Snowbound:”

Snow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,

he would intone with relish. All day, as we shoveled snow and struggled to feed the cattle, he’d declaim.

A prompt, decisive man, no breath
Our father wasted: “Boys, a path”

When I finally looked up John Greenleaf Whittier’s famous poem, “Snowbound,” I was astonished at how much of it my father knew. He also liked to recite from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Curious, I once started writing down the lines he’d recited, and when I pieced them together, I realized he may have memorized most of that monster.

Mother was more interested in romance and morbidity, and often quoted Christina Rossetti:

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land

But Christina was too flowery for me. I loved to chant one of Father's favorites, "Invictus," as my mare Rebel grazed.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Reciting that one in my head got me through high school’s horrors more or less intact; no matter how foolish I felt in my secondhand clothes, I knew I had an unconquerable soul. Pasture practice in deepening my voice eased my acceptance into a high school debate squad, which helped my self-confidence, too. Rebel twitched her ears when I droned,

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward wends his weary way
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

I seldom made it past the "lowing herd" without a giggle. When our cows headed for the home pasture every fall, they galumphed along, bags swinging ludicrously, calves bawling behind.

On my twelfth birthday, when Mother gave me Charles Badger Clark's Sun and Saddle Leather, I temporarily deserted my parents' poets. Clark's stuff rhymed, so it was easy to memorize while I jogged after cows, and he seemed to be describing my country. I won awards in high school declamation for his poems, and my worn copy of the book contains penciled directions to myself. In those days, I knew my audience, and Badger Clark seldom failed to stir listeners.

My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine, for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.

Mother regretted her gift when she discovered Clark's cowboys sounded real, bad grammar and all. She deplored my rendition of "The Legend of Boastful Bill," but I can still recite all ten verses, on a good horse or under certain other amiable conditions. When a friend momentarily blanked on a line while entertaining a crowd of hundreds in New York City, I was able to bellow the appropriate line.

When my father brought my mother sego lilies in the spring, she shook a few ants from the delicate blooms while she hunted for a vase.

"Did you ever read that book by Zane Grey, wife?” my father asked. “Riders of the Purple Sage?"

Mother looked up at the ceiling and recited,

One thing at least is certain
--This Life flies,
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

"While you were reading junk like Zane Grey, dear," she said, pursing her lips, "I was reading the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. 'I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.' No, that's somebody else."

Poetry kept right on providing me with mental sustenance. Six months into my first marriage, I discovered Dorothy Parker's poems and remembered that my mother, survivor of two broken marriages, had mentioned her.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

During regular periods of depression brought on by seven years of mistaken matrimony, I liked to quote some of her most famous lines.

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

For awhile, I worked as a Writer in Schools for various arts councils. Usually, the writer is expected to discuss her own work, and read from it. After a few dozen appearances in high schools, and discussions with high school teachers, I also began to take along examples of fine older poems and read or recite them to the squirming multitudes who seemed to demand entertainment. Want to capture the attention of a high school class for at least ten minutes? Recite Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” complete with voices and facial expressions; rap lyrics can’t begin to compare with the venom dripping from the lines the Duke recites:

This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive.

When the high schoolers realized the poem’s meaning, that the Duke had ordered his Duchess murdered and is negotiating for another young wife, they realized poetry might rival TV in potential for entertainment.

But I digress, therefore I am, which someone else said first. I intended mostly to thank Diane for her writing, to express joy that someone else still walks along mumbling poems to herself, and to thank her for the memory.

Try it: memorize poetry. Diane has explained most of the reasons why, though I’d add one more: when my own poetry is not flowing trippingly off the computer screen, I sometimes solace myself by reciting someone else’s good writing.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
December, 2010
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

# # #

back to top


P3 art by Cory Knedler and poem by Linda displayed at the Washington Pavilion exhibit.
Many thanks to Ruby Wilson for the photo!

Running With Scissors ---
A story about the poem Lost and Found.

I lived with my partner in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for 17 years until his retirement in May 2008, when we moved back to my family ranch in South Dakota. On May 11, 2009, a year after our move, I was working in the garage, moving furniture, when I saw my grandmother’s sewing scissors lying on the greasy floor. Shocked, I picked them up, unable to imagine how they had gotten there; I thought they were safely tucked into her sewing basket. Since I hadn’t done any mending, I hadn’t missed them, but I wrote the poem’s first draft that day.

Later, remembering the times I lived with my grandmother, Cora Belle Hey, I looked in the sewing basket intending to pick up the scissors and hold them so I could see more clearly how her hands held them. I could picture her clearly: how the light glinted in her glasses, how she pushed them up her nose just as I do, how her knuckles eventually got so large she couldn’t use the scissors. I still have two of her hair
combs in the sewing basket, and I use her pin cushion, her thimble, her darning egg.

But the scissors weren’t there.

Had I really taken them inside? Everyone who has read the poem knows how this story goes: I searched the garage, the sewing basket, the room the sewing basket was in, my bedroom, every room in the house. Just as the poem says, every six months or so, I would search all over again, all the places I had searched before, and I’d revise the poem.

In the summer of 2010 I sent a batch of draft poems to the artist Cory Knedler, my assigned partner for the upcoming P3 Exhibit (Poets and Painters at the Pavilion) to be held at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Cory chose to create his artwork based on my poem Lost and Found. I did not see his art until it was completed and hung beside my poem for the exhibit opening.

And this is an illustration of how word choice by the poet can throw things off entirely for the artist or any reader. My grandmother's scissors are tiny and black-- not the large fabric-cutting shears that he pictured. I described the scissors only once in the nearly-final draft that he worked from:

I could see the black blades, that slim point
that fit into a single stitch, her mottled hand.

But a non-sewing guy wouldn't necessarily realize that those big shears couldn't fit into a single stitch. So the error was mine and I've since revised the poem a little more so the reader may picture the scissors as I do.

The story ends well. A week or so after I had finished the final stanza of the poem and decided it worked, I noticed on a basement shelf a decorative metal box that had belonged to my grandmother. I was using it to collect bits of her life to make a collage in her honor. Inside the box were the scissors-- just where I had no doubt put them on that May day.

Here is the final version of the poem:

The actual scissors:
lost then found.

Lost and Found

I started packing a year
before we moved:
this here, that there.
This box to the Salvation Army,
that box of family history
I’ll want someday to the basement,
precisely labeled.

When I unpacked,
tools slid smoothly into places
I’d assigned months before;
clothes folded themselves on shelves,
drawers closed tight. My grandmother’s
sewing basket settled itself on a table
by the window. But her tiny scissors
were not inside it.

Every six months or so,
I wake at sunrise,
sure that this time I’ve thought
where they must be.
I ransack boxes,
search a briefcase,
turn out another drawer.

This morning I dreamed them in her hand
clipping stitches in some blue-sky parlor;
see the black blades, that slim point
that fit into a single stitch, her age spots,
tendons. I’ll never find them now.

All day I think of other things I’ve lost,
touch everything I love.
Before I sleep I say goodbye
to everything,
in case it’s gone
before I wake.

# # #

copyright Linda M. Hasselstrom
Lost and Found first published at P3 exhibition, November, 2010.

For more information:

Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science
301 S. Main Avenue, Sioux Falls, SD 57104

To read about Linda's first P3 collaboration, with the artist Rebecca Mulvaney in 2009
see the No Place Like Home featured book page in the Books & More section of this website.

back to top


Linda performing her poetry at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, 2011.
Thanks to Nancy Curtis for the photo.

Performing vs. Reading Poetry.

Recently I was asked why I speak of “performing” when reading my poetry. For some people, “performance” makes it sound cheap, like “performance art.”

The person asking the question later added: "Just a few days ago it came to me that when Homer was singing, or chanting, or merely speaking (we can’t be sure) his great epics, to the accompaniment of a lyre, it would only be appropriate to call that, not a 'reading,' but a 'performance.'"

"Performance" is the term used at The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, where I have had the honor to perform many times. And what goes on at the Gathering is indeed a performance, and I heartily endorse it.

I agree: we don't know how Homer presented his work, but he certainly was using that lyre, making his voice melodious if he didn't actually sing, and increasing the drama by the use of pauses and music. So I agree, his presentations could best be termed "performances."

So when one of the performers at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering picks up his guitar and strums a few notes while he starts reciting a poem or telling a story, he is in very ancient company indeed! Homer would probably fit right in at the Gathering-- except we'd have to get him some boots instead of those sandals, and a cowboy hat instead of that wreath of laurel.

Most of the poets who present their original work at the Gathering have it memorized, which is the tradition: reciting from memory. Many of those who perform at the Gathering are not reciting poems they have written, but poems written by others, in many cases the classic cowboy poems by early writers such as Badger Clark. These performers may almost act out the poem, presenting it as if it were a dramatic monologue, with great flair. Other performers at the Gathering are storytellers, either of original material, or of classic, well-known stories.

I first discovered “performing” poetry years ago when I was one of about 10 people reading at a university that shall be unnamed, in the far northern reaches of the Great Plains. I was reading with 100% academic poets, all better-known than I was, and all in their home town or territory, and to a man-- and they were mostly men-- they read in a monotone, looking down at their books, not making eye contact with the audience, never raising their voices, and sounding bored as hell. I was bored. The audience was practically catatonic.

So when my turn came, I read a mediocre poem of mine called “Tomboy” which features the chants that we did on the playground as children-- and I did those chants the way they were done when I was ten:

Two little love birds
sitting in a tree

I whooped, I hollered, I had fun recalling and imitating the shrill voices of the children who chanted those verses to me.

And when the reading was over and we all sat at a table in the front of the room to sign our books, the entire audience lined up in front of me, and no one lined up in front of the others.

I thought AHA! And finally realized poetry can be fun.

That didn’t change me completely, but it made me more aware. Some of those Lutheran poets like Bill Kloefkorn actually SING parts of appropriate poems. I can’t carry a tune.

But when I went to the Gathering and saw these guys in big hats-- and some play guitar and write songs too-- I thought HMM. They pace the stage, they wave their arms, they holler, they whisper, and they are clearly having fun. The audience loves it. And the experience is terrific.

Unless the performer forgets in the middle of a poem. I have seen fine reciters immobilized while an audience of hundreds holds its collective breath, hoping they can remember the next line. Once, in New York, I was able to save the reciter by shouting out the next line.

A few years ago, at the Gathering, I performed with Marie Smith, a fine poet who recently died, and noticed that she was going to read her work. I told her how pleased I was to see someone else reading, since I had been given a hard time by stage hands and others for requiring light for my reading.

“Humph,” she said. “In the time I spend memorizing a poem, I could write another one.” So I stopped feeling guilty about reading. I’ve memorized some of my poems, but I always carry the copy along in case of that sudden lapse that can happen to anyone.

Another change in my performance came about because I’ve gone to so many readings where the writer is introduced, and the audience is full of expectation and then the poet wanders out and says hello and chats a little and talks about his friend who introduced him, and how he likes the town-- and you can FEEL the enthusiasm dwindling away. Sometimes he loses track of time. He’s timed his reading for 30 minutes, but he talks for 15, and THEN reads for 30 and it gets too long. This is understandable: when you are in front of people looking interested, you tend to rattle on.

I started simply beginning immediately, with no chatter-- just BAM! Into the poem. Then I say what needs to be said: thanking sponsors, maybe, or mentioning something personal about the town, or introducing the next poem.

The first time I did “Make a Hand” in Elko, a few years ago, I just started from the edge of the stage, yelling out:

”Make a hand,” my father hollered when my friends came down to visit. . . .

The audience shut right up, and I got thunderous applause. Now I always start that poem that way, and often start a reading or performance with the poem.

My job as a poet reading is to help people enjoy themselves with poetry, and putting a little zing into it makes it more enjoyable. It is a performance and I’m comfortable with that term now. I dress for it, too: in Elko, that’s boots, hat, wild rag (neck scarf). I don’t have the money to make it too fancy, but I don’t wear the modest, monotone clothing I normally wear. I never wear a hat at home-- but it’s necessary for the lights on stage there.

So: that’s what “performance” means.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
March, 2011
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

# # #

For more information:

The Western Folklife Center website where some of Linda’s poetry performances are available as audioclips.

“Tomboy” is published in the book Dakota Bones (Spoon River Poetry Press, 1993).

“Make a Hand” is published in the book Bitter Creek Junction (High Plains Press, 2000), which is also available as an audiobook (on cd or cassette), read– performed!– by the author.

back to top



You can read poetry by Linda at various and sundry websites. Some websites have exclusive photos or audioclips.

If you know of a website mention of Linda that we don't have listed here, please let us know about it. Thanks!

Bare Root Review --- Linda's poem The Westie's Nightly Game.

Cowboy Poetry website --- three of Linda's poems available in print.

People's Poetry --- audioclip of Linda reading the poem Hands.

World of Poetry --- Linda's poem The Only Place and "scary photos."

Writer's Almanac --- Three of Linda's poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor's radio spots over the years.

Linda's Poetry on Linda's Blog (this link will take you to the Blog Page)
Poems from the book Land Circle have been reprinted in Linda's Blog on this website.

  • The poem At the Balloon Races in Custer, South Dakota may be found in the January, 2012 archives or under the index topic of balloons.
  • The poem Butchering the Crippled Heifer may be found in the January, 2012 archives or under the index topic of beef.

back to top


Bare Root Review

Bare Root Review is a literary e-zine from the Creative Writing Program at Southwest Minnesota State University. This online journal has an original poem by Linda, “The Westie's Nightly Game,” plus a photo of Duggan himself. Go to the Bare Root Review website and click on the link with Linda's name to go to the page with her poem.

If you prefer, you can read the poem on this website instead. See the Dog Stories page in the Books & More section.

back to top

Cowboy Poetry Website

CowboyPoetry.com has three of Linda's poems available to read (no audio-clips).

published in Dakota Bones

Rancher Roulette
published in Dakota Bones

Keeping an Eye Out
published in Cowgirl Poetry: One Hundred Years of Ridin' and Rhymin'
edited by Virginia Bennett (Gibbs-Smith, 2001).

The Cowboy Poetry website's page featuring Linda, with a sampling of her poetry and some writings about poet Badger Clark.

back to top

People's Poetry

For three days in April, 1999, Linda and about 5,500 other people gathered in New York City for poetry readings, conversations and performances. Among other events, Linda participated in a late-night poetry slam that pitted cowboy poets against inner city poets in a smokey bar. Alas, the cowboy poets lost the competition due to inexperience, though they improved after the first round and began winning the applause of the audience.

For an audio clip of Linda reading her poem "Hands," go to the People's Poetry website, click on “Audio & Video Excerpts” then select “Past Clips” and “1999 Clips.” Scroll down to find Linda’s name. To hear the clip you need to have any MP3 compatible player including RealPayer, Windows MediaPlayer, or Apple's iTunes.

If you don’t have that capability or wish to read it yourself, you can find "Hands" in the book Dakota Bones (1993, Spoon River Poetry Press).

This People’s Poetry Gathering was sponsored by City Lore and Poet’s House.
Read more about them on the People's Poetry website.

back to top

World of Poetry

Go to the World of Poetry website. Click on "United States of Poetry" then select section #6 "Portraits." Scroll down through the list of poets and click on Linda's name.

You'll find Linda's poem "The Only Place" along with a couple photos of Linda that have been described as "scary." These photos were taken in the bathroom of the Indian/western art store Prairie Edge in Rapid City, South Dakota. Once you read the poem you'll realize why they were taken in a bathroom.

back to top

Writer's Almanac

Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion radio-show fame also presents poetry to the masses through his Writer's Almanac radio spot, podcast and website. Each day, The Writer's Almanac features Garrison Keillor as he recounts the highlights of the day in history and reads a short poem or two.

Three of Linda's poems have been featured on the Writer's Almanac over the years.

Rancher Roulette
in April, 1996 (no poem or audio-clip available).

Coffee Cup Cafe
in August, 2003 (poem posted and audio-clip available).

Clara: In the Post Office
in July, 2002 (for Linda's birthday -- both poem and clip available) and
in September, 2010 (poem only).

The website uses both RealAudio and Windows Media formats and has a good help section.

Website for The Writer's Almanac and search for Hasselstrom under authors.

Or try this link to go to Linda's page directly.

back to top

Hamilton Stone Review
Summer 2010 Issue Number 21

Linda's short nonfiction piece entitled "Memory for A.V.F., Jemez Pueblo" appears in the Summer 2010 Issue of The Hamilton Stone Review, an online literary magazine edited by Reamy Jansen.

For more information:
Issue Number 21 of the Hamilton Stone Review

# # #