Wyoming is a wild, rugged and beautiful land that demands toughness — both mental and physical — from those who call it home. The population is sparse, but the sense of community runs deep.
So what makes a person stay here? And what makes them leave?
Those are questions Tyler Julian explores in his new book of poetry, titled “Wyoming: The Next Question to Ask (to Answer).”
“I really think of Kemmerer as my home,” Julian said. “My family has lived and worked there for five generations. Kemmerer is the place that brings everyone together.”
Julian’s family owns the Julian Land and Livestock sheep ranch outside of Kemmerer. Tyler said his family moved around when he was younger because of his dad’s football coaching jobs at the University of Wyoming and several Wyoming high schools.
“After that, Kemmerer became home in a concrete sense as I worked on the ranch with my grandparents, cousins and the rest of my family,” Julian said.
That rich family history of ranching and the rural values instilled in Wyomingites are woven into Julian’s poetry.
“Wyoming is one big small town with really long roads, geometric, an easy roadmap,” reads Julian’s poem, “Haying.”
Julian, who attended the University of Wyoming and is currently in graduate school in New Mexico studying creative writing, said what sets his book apart from traditional poetry is that all the poems are linked.
“It feels like someone sitting down to tell a story,” Julian said. “I think it can really reach people, because I tried to capture that feeling of community but also of isolation in the West.”
The poems in Julian’s book build on each other, so Wyoming is transformed into a dynamic character rather than just a place.
Real stories and history are injected into the poems, helping strengthen those connections to the state and its people. Julian mentions the Stock Exchange bar and pieces of the story of “Petticoat Rustler” Anna Richey, the only woman in Wyoming to be convicted of cattle rustling.
The Julian ranch sits on what was once Richey’s property.
“In Wyoming there’s a connection to the land,” Julian said. “Even in the isolated moments, the poems have themes of home, place and family.”
Julian said the speaker in his poems becomes more reflective in those solitary moments.
“The poems revolve around the idea of home. The speaker is on the highway a lot, so I tried to capture that idea of leaving and coming back,” Julian said. “That subject is really applicable with Wyoming, a state that struggles to keep young people here.”
Julian said he has always wanted to be a writer.
“I forgot that’s what I wanted when I was in high school and even college and had so many other things going on,” Julian said. “It was my mom who pushed me to re-evaluate and remember my dreams.”
Julian studied Spanish and international relations at the University of Wyoming before graduating and pursuing writing as a career.
“I wanted to be an asset to the ranch and to agriculture,” Julian said. “That program gave me a global perspective that helps me as a writer.”
Julian said the family ranching business and family traditions are a big influence on his work.
“The book comes from stories,” Julian said. “It’s bittersweet to talk about because my grandfather (Truman Julian) just passed away. So much of this work was inspired by family.
“Another one of those questions we ask ourselves is about the responsibility to carry on the legacy and memory of the older generation,” Julian continued. “I’m part of the next generation that will carry on these stories, so in the book I try to hone in on that question of what happens next.”
Julian said the first draft of his book looked very traditional.
“It was a collection of imagery-driven poems I worked on in my undergrad,” Julian said. “When I was on the ranch, I took notes on my phone when I felt I had observed something profound, whether I was on the tractor cutting hay, out with the sheep or talking with sheepherders.”
After graduating from the University of Wyoming, Julian wrote new work to supplement his poetry.
“This new work was more conversational,” Julian said. “It was an emotional and intense process, especially because these poems are near to my heart.”
Julian said he thinks the book has something for everyone, even people who don’t read poetry or aren’t from Wyoming. He read some of his book recently in Texas for the first time, and was pleased to hear it was relatable with his audience.
“I had no idea how people would respond,” Julian said. “But someone came up to me and said they appreciated my work, and that was really humbling.
“I hope that this work speaks to something people are going through, and that they will see that their story is valid, too,” Julian continued. “Everybody is an expert in their own story, but I think there’s sometimes a fear for us to embrace our story.”
Fellow poets have praised Julian’s book for its honesty and depiction of a Wyomingite struggling with questions that may never be answered.
“The poems of Tyler Julian’s debut are fierce testimony to a wild and flawed land that holds its inhabitants both spellbound and reeling,” writes Chelsea Dingman, author of “Thaw,” winner of the National Poetry Series Competition. “These poems explore what it means to give into the violent nature of this vast and barren landscape.”
“‘Like roots in that damn, cruel, hard, unforgiving soil,’ Tyler Julian’s driven debut lives Wyoming, breathes Wyoming, and yes, even chokes on Wyoming’s omnipresent dust,” writes Travis Cebula, author of “The Sublimation of Frederick Eckert.” “This is a Wyoming where a family can cut hay from the same earth for generations and remain nameless for just as long. And this is a Wyoming you will probably never want to leave.”