Casting Lines 2

Amy Ratto Parks Talks Poetry, Family, Flies And Fun In Missoula

Amy Ratto Parks is the assistant director of composition at the University of Montana and an award-winning poet. She holds an MFA in poetry, MA in literature, and an EdD in Education. She’s the co-owner of Missoulian Angler Fly Shop and a certified yoga teacher.


Tell me about your family:

My daughter is 12 and my son is 10, and they are two of the most creative, active, interesting people I know. My husband is a fishing outfitter and business owner—and an amazing baker. He spoils the kids with homemade scones, muffins, pancakes, and waffles on school mornings.

What do you do for work? What do you do for fun?

Whenever I think about this question I am both grateful and perplexed by the fact that the things I do for work and fun are constantly blurred. I am paid to be a teacher and administrator in the composition program at the University of Montana where I teach writing courses and mentor new teachers. I also write scholarly and creative works, practice yoga, really enjoy making food and eating it with good friends and family, and spending time doing anything at all with my husband and children.

Do you tie flies?

I don’t, but my daughter does.

You were recently on a panel at the Montana Book Festival, entitled “Many Hats: Striking a Balance Between Creative Work and Creative Livelihood.” Can you distill your input on this subject for us?

I talked primarily about the power of single-tasking. We live in a world that begs us to multi-task but I think that we often confuse busyness with productivity. Writing requires time to reflect, think, and process, and those things don’t often happen in a rush. I try my best to only do one thing at a time: if I am eating, I try to think about the meal, if I’m responding to student writing, I’m only thinking about her essay, if I’m doing laundry I try to think of the warmth of the fabric, if I’m working on a poem, I study the words in front of me.

How would you describe the university’s role in the greater Missoula community?

I have been grateful to call the University of Montana my second home for the past 15 years. I love UM because it’s large enough that there are always new faces and new conversations, but small enough that we can really take care of our students. The university fosters an atmosphere of learning and friendly inquiry throughout Missoula, and its graduate and undergraduate students often stick around, which leads to the joke that there are more master’s degrees per capita than almost anywhere else.

Favorite Montana getaway:

My in-laws’ home in Victor, Montana, is my first favorite place in the state. They live near Bear Creek Trail—where one can just walk straight into the wilderness.

Favorite kid-friendly Missoula winter activity:

One thing I love about Montana winters is that people are outside all the time—no matter what the weather. We like to spend indoor time at the Missoula Public Library (followed by hot chocolate at Market on Front) and outdoor time at Discovery Mountain.

Favorite non-kid-friendly Missoula winter activity:

Montgomery Distillery for cocktails, the Top Hat for food, and then the Crystal Theater to hear a reading hosted by the Open Country Reading Series.

How does Missoula inspire you?

I find Missoula almost endlessly engaging because it is full of people making things happen. It is a politically, intellectually, and compassionately engaged community. It’s full of writers and musicians and actors, people raising animals and growing food, vocal political activists and behind-the-scenes helpers. It’s a group of people who care about building community and working for positive change.

You’re involved in two quintessential Missoula activities—writing and fishing. How are they alike? Different?

I don’t really fish at all, but I do deeply appreciate the art of fly fishing, perhaps because I think writing and fly fishing are connected: Both require years of learning to hone your craft, develop your style, and, in the end, surrender to listening to something larger than yourself. And after all of that, there is never a guarantee that it will work. People who fly fish and people who write poems both cast out lines and hope that something will tug back.