Montana is often described as a place with such natural beauty that it moves and inspires people, or so would be said by the authors of “On a Benediction of Wind.” The book pairs photography and poetry pertaining to the natural world and was conceived and based on the Bitterroot Valley and Stevensville. The piece was recently awarded the 2022 Montana Book Award of the year. Photographer Barbara Michelman, and writer Charles Finn, worked for some time to create what they describe, as a “good meal” paired with a “fine wine.”
According to Michelman, the book is “a combination of poetry and photography so that they are in conversation with each other.” Both contributors explained that each photo and poetry piece took quite a while to pair. However, when the right match was made, there was a “collective aha,” as described by Michelman.
Michelman has a background in film lighting and loves photographing nature, especially the Pacific Flyway. Finn has already published another book: a nonfiction, featuring wildlife encounters. He is also co-editing a poetry textbook with former Oregon poet laureate Kim Stafford.
“On a Benediction of Wind” begins with a preface about the book and its inception, and has over 100 pages of photos and poems about Montana, the Pacific Northwest and American Southwest. All the images are black and white and the poems are a combination of prose and free verse. Finn mentioned that there is a mysterious couple featured that is not based on anyone in particular. He explained that they are imaginary and are meant to find connection with anyone the reader chooses.
The idea for the coordinated effort came from a party in Stevensville where the two met. According to Finn, it was the former Stevensville Mayor at the time, Gene Mim Mack, who suggested they work on a piece together. “This book is really rooted in Stevensville,” said Michelman.
Both lived in the area for a time and both enjoyed finding refuge in nature. “Just to be out wandering in the woods or by the river, that’s where I find solace and rejuvenation,” said Finn. “It is mostly about the stillness,” added Michelman.
After moving their separate ways, the two decided that they should finally finish the book. The idea of how they were going to go about making it came from reverse transfer images Michelman had been working on. They were images imposed on aluminum plates in black and white. She referred to these as “tin types.” Working together, either playing off Michelman’s images, or pairing photos with poems written by Finn, the final book was finished following a long back and forth.
The book was published in August of 2022, and the publisher nominated it for the award. One among over 30 other submissions of various genres, it was voted on by nine committee members. The two contributors of “On a Benediction of Wind” received notice that they were to receive the award Wednesday, March 1. They will officially receive the award in Billings on April 12.
For those interested in reading the book, it can be found on Amazon, at chatwinbooks.com, or at Fact and Fiction bookstore in Missoula.