So much poetry, so little time


Weekend class registration is done in the lobby of the old capitol building followed by a buffet of fresh fruit, cheeses, crackers, pastries and coffee.   The majority of the newly registered and fed walked up the wide spiral staircase to the general assembly room.  Fortunately there was a small elevator for those of us who needed it to take us from the main floor up one level for the annual speech by the weekend faculty director.    We sipped coffee as she reminded us that if the magic of Iowa City had enchanted us and we thought of moving here, just be sure to secure employment first.   The teachers filed out after being introduced, getting to the classrooms before we all arrived.

Ilya Kaminsky, the scholarly young man who teaches at the University of California, San Diego for the rest of the academic year was smiling as he advised us “If you want to write good Haiku, you must read a thousand Haiku.”

He proceeded to hand out sheets with assorted tiny font poems grouped haphazardly and photocopied, so we were turning the pages to read the poems upright for each different piece as he asked the questions about repetition, how does the poet get away with it, how do you claim English as your language, what is your physical claim?  What about tension and architecture …the poet is professor of five senses…a poem is a photograph made with words…what are your obsessions? How will you make your madness into art?

Intensity would be the best description of a short class.  All the material condensed to filter through our heads as we go forward with our individual lives, letting ideas germinate and grow on our own time when we each return to our homes.

The ten of us headed in different directions.  I went over to Jefferson Street and turned right and walked a few blocks to St. Mary’s Catholic Church for the 5:30 Mass and then to a nearby sandwich shop, where while I was eating, an open mic got set up, chairs shuffled into a group and soon people were reading while the audience listened.  I saw some familiar faces among them but I was getting tired, so after about forty-five minutes, I decided to leave and start the long walk down the steep road back to the hotel.  By the time the sun was setting and I finally got back to the hotel, I thought that next year it might be good to take a taxi instead of risking that route again.

Sunday we gathered by nine a.m. and read the work of a few more poets I’d never heard of as Mr. Kaminsky explained their techniques speaking of nouns as actors and verbs as directors in poetry.  As we listened to each work, he asks who the writer is stealing from?  One of the students read a very funny poem she wrote called The Outhouse, and I asked her if she stole from Billy Collins.  She said no.

Before leaving the building I phoned Lee whom I met in the Memoir class last year, then headed over to the Sheraton on the Pedestrian Mall to meet her in the hotel lobby.  We had a brief visit sitting there before I got back on the phone to call Rose Marie, an acquaintance from the Austin International Poetry Festival, who introduced me to this program.

She and her husband drove up from San Antonio and her friend Bonnie joined them when she arrived from her home in North Dakota.  They were all sitting in the restaurant across a hallway from where Lee and I were sitting, so we crossed into the restaurant and joined them.

This was a great visit, partly because I had not seen any of them since last year, but even more so because Lee is a horsewoman from Kentucky and immediately hit it off with Rose Marie and Bill because they also have horses, and there was so much common ground.

Bonnie showed us pictures of the Northern Lights she can see almost any evening and said she can go to The Bad Lands for lunch any day.  We talked and laughed until it was time for the three ladies to head to their registration, Rose Marie and Bonnie were scheduled for a full week of poetry with Ilya Kaminsky and Lee for Writing in Fragments.  Bill would be busy doing things with his brother and enjoying family visits since he is from this area.

Once we all hugged and wished each other well, I headed out for some dinner before returning to the hotel room and beginning to let it all settle.  There is always a little let down at the end of such a full schedule of trying to absorb so much information, hoping I took enough notes, that I can read my writing when I try to unravel all the gems within the lines of scrawl.

The next morning at breakfast I took a few more pictures, exchanged a few more e-mail addresses, bid fond farewell, and once again, as I did last year, saw Jim from my 2014 class and he said he didn’t see me often enough to remember my name (since I had packed away my name tags he couldn’t just read it!) More laughs, more looking out the window at the Iowa River, so beautiful and calm on this sunny day.  Checking out and sitting in the lobby I called the shuttle to confirm they were picking me up and he said yes, actually picking up two of us.

I walked through the lobby to get a better picture of the river and discovered a great lunch place where I got a good hamburger, a bottle of water and a little container of cole slaw for $5.00 so I indulged remembering the outrageous prices at the airport.

Once I was finally ready to take my leave I waited outside in the cooking sun for about ten minutes before the shuttle arrived and the driver got me settled in.  Then Kate arrived and she settled into the front seat next to the driver.  She turned to face me and bombarded me with questions and I told her I remembered her reading at the open mic on Wednesday and we talked non-stop right to the airport in Cedar Rapids.  She is a school teacher from Toronto, Canada and she has a friend who was at the RNC in Cleveland and wrote an article for the Toronto paper about it and he was going to Ohio State University in the fall to pursue his Master’s Degree.

Kate was on the same flight I was on going to Chicago, where we would both change planes.  We started talking until the white haired lady next to me took up the conversation.  She and her husband have a business selling yarn up in Maine, called Peace Fleece and we talked all the way to Chicago.  Before getting off the plane I wished both ladies safe travels for the remainder of their journeys and said to Kate, “God willing, next year!”  She nodded enthusiastically.


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