It’s been four days now since I returned from the Iowa Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, but in my head I am still walking around the campus through the muggy hot sunny days. There were brightly painted park benches along the main promenade, called The Pedestrian Walkway, which I took advantage of, sitting a bit when my knees called for rest.
The intense and long cold winter of 2013-14 killed off the larvae for the wasps that normally dine on gnats, so there was an infestation of gnats throughout the area which kept the folks out of doors swatting as they walked along.
On the campus and along the row of restaurants I counted three pianos out in the open available for anyone so inclined to sit and pick out a tune or two in passing.
The ID badge with computer access username and password was not only useful for getting class assignments done in a media center in Phillips Hall, it was a flag to fellow writers and poets who were in town for the writing program and brought a friendly smile or morning greeting from some of them.
Ours was a small class of seven in Documentary poetry: the poet as journalist, where I hoped to get a sense of which direction to head down next, wondering how to pull together writing from my past, family history, and numerous very old photos. All of the students had a wealth of background information from which to draw their poems. The teacher showed us how to look at our words with different eyes, different perspectives.
She taught us to draw our audience into our work with more description saying that most poets are short on detail of place – some geographic highlights, like if there is a river or creek running through the town, hills or other characteristics to help the reader to picture the environment. In the three hour class which flew by daily we shared our thoughts and expressed our responses to each other’s words.
I hiked the long city block and then some to the Coralville bus stop each morning and waited for the blue bus which wound into Iowa City, crossing the lovely Iowa River, now swollen to its banks from two weeks of continuous rain, into the heart of the campus where I walked along enjoying the stimulating company of those I met in class or strangers mingling in restaurants or the coffee shop.
I enjoyed camaraderie at the first night reception, dinner, then a day or so later a wine tasting with wonderful hors d’oeuvres – that was dinner for me – in a fine book store, poetry readings and lectures. On the eve of the last class there was a grand dinner followed by music for dancing in a building called The Brick which at least formerly was a house of worship.
On the days between organized events I was lucky enough to join Carol, a local organic farmer and Delia an engineer and her math teacher husband, Jim, for some good food at a noodle shop where the client volume made it almost impossible to hear those at our own table, next door to the Prairie Lights Book Store, These folks and the teacher all reside in Iowa and on her way home for the last 3 evenings of the class, Carol dropped me off at the motel in Coralville where I had been staying which was so much better than waiting for the bus and hiking from the stop back to my room.
Each student had a half hour conference with the teacher on the second last day and in our last class we did free writing which ended with thoughts pulled from all the random material. I came away from this very verdant place with half dozen new poems with critiques and the teacher’s thoughts on my group of tsunami poems, plenty to think about. My winter’s work is laid out for me.