Sheryl Noethe's best poems start with an idea for the opening line.
She then abandons it to her imagination — which her mother once likened to a runaway horse — to carry it where ever it may go.
That's just one thing Noethe, Montana's new poet laureate, shared with a Rocky Mountain College class Wednesday morning.
During an animated presentation that sent her long arms waving and dark ponytail swinging, Noethe talked about what poetry is and how it can help the faceless, the abused and the forgotten.
Poetry calls upon the most basic and most essential feelings, she said. It also addresses the soul, which often is hidden in contemporary society.
Because of that, "writing poetry can be the fullest way to live a life."
Noethe, 56, grew up in Minnesota and spent time in New York City before coming west.
Because her early poems helped her come to terms with her own difficult upbringing, she encourages others who feel adrift to write their way out of despair.
Noethe has lived in Missoula for many years, where she and Megan McNamer started the Missoula Writing Collaborative that sends published writers into classrooms to teach children to love to write.
The key to hooking kids on poetry is to read them something written by their peers.
When rural students heard a poem by a young poet about recalcitrant cows, one student gave Noethe's favorite reply: "That's poetry? I can do that."
Noethe interrupted her Wednesday talk when she spotted one of her former fourth-grade students from Missoula, now is a Rocky student, sitting in the classroom.
Noethe not only recognized the woman but also called her by name as she ran to hug her.
When asked if she makes a living from poetry, Noethe said her husband's income as a retired Missoula fire marshal supports her life of writing.
No money comes with the title of poet laureate, but it does allow her to do what she's always done — write and teach poetry — on a larger scale.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed her poet laureate in August for a two-year term.
Noethe had asked well-known poets in the state to nominate her for the post, but they already had recommended someone else. So she went to her students and teachers, who did.
Noethe has published three books of poetry: "The Descent of Heaven over the Lake," "The Ghost Opening," and "As Is." She also published a textbook, "Poetry Everywhere."
Noethe encouraged students to write something every day and "keep notes on your life." That way it can become "a habit of being," she said, quoting Flannery O'Connor.
Then Noethe added her own spin on the novelist's quote "better than smoking."
Noethe's visit to a humanities class taught by Elizabeth McNamer was sponsored by Humanities Montana Speaker's Bureau.