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Archive for the ‘Ioway’ Category

Last week, settling down in front of my laptop, trying to think of some kind of Facebook status update, I thought I know these roads like the back of my hands. But I’m becoming tired of Facebook, so I didn’t write anything at all. Then, on Friday, back in the car and driving north to Minnesota, the highway stretched out before me like a spool of black tape, I thought What a perfect expression! That’s my new favorite expression!

Because ALL I DO IS LOOK AT THE BACKS OF MY HANDS. For ten hours a week, driving, the road so familiar I could draw you a map from Arden Hills, Minnesota to Iowa City, Iowa – every little hill, farm, rest stop, river, casino, truck stop, pasture, forest, grain silo… Also, as a writer, you’re always staring at your hands. Waiting for them to move, to create something.

Today marks the last time I need to drive south for several months. We visit Iowa City in June for the big reunion, but otherwise, I wouldn’t have to come back at all until August.

In other news:

Completed William Maxwell’s “So Long, See You Tomorrow” – incredible. Presently reading Anthony Doerr’s “The Shell Collector.”

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Back Down To Ioway

This weekend was all about getting healthy: getting Henry’s sore bum healed and getting Regina healthy too. Everyone (except me) has been sick, which doesn’t make the going any easier for Regina without me around Monday night through Thursday night. Last Thursday in fact, I cut my class short so I could hit the highway to back with them and VERY early on Friday morning Henry and I drove to the doctor’s office to get his sore butt diagnosed. He is doing much better. Nothing a weekend with both parents around couldn’t fix. Today we took a nice wintry walk, Henry strapped to my back. On one frozen pond near our house we saw about three dozen turkeys.

There hasn’t been much to report of late. I had an essay on parenting printed in The Christian Science Monitor, but so far I can’t find a link to the piece on their website. The fifth issue of PANK was just printed, and that magazine has three of my poems. They did a very fine job formatting my work – a really nice publication. My teaching is going along easily enough. It helps to have some experience, to know the syllabus. I’m blessed to have another nice crop of kids.

I hope to begin blogging again more, sorry for my absence.

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Come Monday, I’ll be back on the road. Driving south down to Ioway. What a terrific month it has been. I am ready to get back to my studies, my teaching, my writing, my reading, my friends, and my academic routine. But a month at home with Henry has been amazing. I am already excited for the summer when the weather will obviously be more hospitable and we can take long walks, go swimming, etc.

Netflix has certainly disrupted my nightly writing patterns, but after a month of watching at least a movie a day (and sometimes two or three), I’ve gotten back into my groove. I finished (or lengthened) a novella the other night and I’ve been cranking out some poems that I really like. Now I just need to find some homes for these writings.

In any case, Saturday night we’re headed to a dinner party and I’ll be rooting on the Green Bay Packers. Hopefully, Sunday morning won’t be a bad comedown.

PS – Over the break I read “This Is Just Exactly Like You” by Drew Perry, and I’m giving that novel my endorsement here. For me, it was akin to reading a more youthful Richard Russo. I also just finished reading the short story “We Have A Pope!” by Christopher Buckley – excellent.

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This old house is cold. I’m wearing three layers of garments and laying in bed. I should have more blankets but I keep forgetting to bring them south from Minnesota. I just took a shower to warm up for even a little while. The coffee cup resting on the window-sill has even grown cold.

Swan is in town (technically camped just outside of town) and tomorrow I’ll take him for a tour of the university and the Dey House. Hopefully he’ll be able to sit in on my workshop and then perhaps we’ll all go out for dinner and drinks. Though I haven’t frequented the Foxhead much, no doubt we’ll darken its hallowed doorstep. And then I’ll join him for a cold night of car-camping out near Lake McBride. In the morning, we’ll rise and go hunt pheasants.

Truth is, I don’t care much for hunting. But in recent years I have developed an itch to go bird-hunting. In my mind I’m desirous to hunt pheasants and grouse. No interest in capping a duck or goose. They seem somehow more noble. But my Dad and I used to shoot trap (clay pigeons) and I loved that. So I’m looking forward to Wednesday. To walking through frost-crusted fields. To walking beside my best friend and his black dog, the weight of a shotgun cradled in my arm. Condensation in my mustache. The taste of hot coffee and at night, legs sore, the communion of fire and wine.

Post script: Henry-The-Dragon and I went to the grocery store together today, in character. Had a wonderful morning with Henry today. He slept on my chest and then played by himself for a while. He woke me up, a book in his hands, ready for a story. My favorite reader.

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This was the first drive down to Ioway that really sapped it out of me.  Henry was sad to see me go and it was traumatic for me to leave him.  Not that our nanny isn’t capable or kind.  She is.  But Henry and I had a terrific day together running errands and just generally being father-and-son.  Partners-in-crime.  I was sorry to hit the road.

My energy level was fine until I hit northern Ioway and then I grew sluggish.  Stopped in Clear Lake to refuel Dot the Matrix and to pee.  (Clear Lake, Ioway is essentially my urinal.)  I was then able to navigate all the way to Ioway City on the strength of three mixed CDs engineered by (in no particular order): Nik Novak, Benoit Letendre, and Josh Swentzel.  Thank god for fresh music.

Wrote a good poem today about this derelict house that I drive by on my route through central Ioway.  A big Confederate flag hanging in the window that faces the highway like some kind of moronic badge of honor.  Saw dozens of deer this evening and that unnerves me.  Don’t want to hit them with Dot.

I’m beat.  Road-weary.  My bedsheets hot in the dryer.

Godspeed America.  The Civil War ended over a 150 years ago.  And a reminder: Ioway fought for The Union.

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I had a terrific weekend spent in the company of my family and the Hanson family of Marion, Ioway.  Nights spent drinking cold canned beer.  Mornings around the table, eating with children.  Eating good, hot food.  Outside, always cold rain and the sky alive with lightning and thunder.  Football on the television.  Amongst family.  Driving the back-roads of Ioway.

We spent Sunday afternoon stripping a neighborhood apple tree; filling a child’s wagon with apples freshly picked and some windblown and fallen.  We dressed in warm garments.  We washed the apples and John Ryal supplied an ancient apple press long used in his family.  We took our turns cutting the apples, filling a hopper, cranking on the press, emptying the mash, carrying the juice into the house for cider.  Our fingers sticky, the air like apples, the skin of apples on the earth, children eating apples.  We filled many Mason jars with cider.

It is best to work.  To stay busy.  There is always something to do, something to be made out of nothing.  It is good to work with your family.  It is good to work on a Sunday afternoon, even if we are told otherwise.  In America, there are more apples than we could ever hope to eat.  They become fertilizer and they feed the desperate autumn wasps.

I took Henry to the doctor on Monday.  He weighs more than 24 pounds now.  I held his little hands while two nurses pumped sharp needles into his little legs.  He was in so much pain his face became red and he cried so hard that he did not make a sound.  It made me want to tear the world apart and protect him, even if I was protecting him.  Even if he needed the immunizations.  My baby.  My son.  How was I appointed to be his defender?  My Dad was a ferocious advocate and I remember how you could feel his love, how intense it was.  How it felt to be protected by him.  I love that aspect of fatherhood.  That now, I have a family.  People to take care of.  To protect.  Today was Henry’s first day at daycare.  Today we are both in school.

I workshop a story today.  In two weeks I meet with a publisher and maybe nothing will happen.  But maybe it will.  If you believe in prayer or positive thinking then I would appreciate your thoughts.

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My Wednesdays are surreal.  Only two classes, both of which I’m taking as a student.  No teaching duties on Wednesdays.  I sit in two different classrooms and listen to the lectures of two flat-out geniuses.  Big brained people.  But two, totally different minds, personalities, and styles.

I’m taking a class on the poetry of James Merrill.  The class is taught by James Galvin who wrote, among other things, The Meadow which I mentioned in a long-ago post regarding my top twenty books of all time(s).  The Meadow shattered many of the paradigms of what I thought I knew literature to be, or to look like.  But it isn’t pretentious.  It is beautiful and wonderfully crafted with sweet, sweet characters in a well-carved environment.  Galvin writes about the American West the way I WANT to write about the American Middlewest.

Galvin’s teaching style is part barroom and part Ivy League.  He expects you to know poetry, the machinations of poetry, the history of poetry, the theory and practice of poetry.  He’ll read aloud in Italian, map the beats of a poem spontaneously on the board and tell us about meeting Merrill or other godlike names of poetry.  And then he’ll tell a dirty joke.  He’ll say “fuck” like a Wal-Mart greeter says “Hello!”.  He grins with teeth missing.

And the Merrill class is basically built around a series of poems that were crafted used a Ouija board.

So Galvin is the BAD DEVIL on my shoulder, grinning and cursing.

Then, an hour later, I walk over to Marilynne Robinson’s classroom where I listen raptly as she spills what seems to be several lifetimes worth of knowledge about The Bible into our ears.  When I say “spills”, what I mean is that her knowledge is like water.  It flows out of her.  It fills the room.  It fills my brain.  She has drown me with information.  And she does so with the sweetest smile on her face.  She giggles sweetly throughout class, chuckling wryly as she remembers another archaic nugget of information to direct our way.  I fill pages of paper with notes.  She answers our questions patiently, thoughtfully, nodding.  If she doesn’t know the answer, she makes a note of the question and during the next class session, she has an answer.

A few students have put forth what I consider to be, dumb questions in her class.  They have filled her classroom with bullshit asides, I think in order to hear their own voices.  But she has never put them down.  She’s like an oracle, a humble oracle.

So I also have Marilynne Robinson.  The GOOD ANGEL on one shoulder, giggling, a copy of The New Testament in her hands.

Today, this dichotomy shook my brain.  The Ouija board and the Book of Matthew.  Meanwhile, my students are confusing “Leaves of Grass” with a botany text, rather than an American epic poem.

Ioway is a strange place where my greatest challenges are synthesizing the voices of geniuses and digesting beautiful books, beautiful poems.

Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.

Godspeed Ioway.

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