Kind salutations to the readers, writers, critics and the simply-just-interested-in-books of Iowa City. Being in the wake of the Iowa City Book Festival we may assume that our weekly ration of literary readings and seminars has been exhausted, but – to our great pleasure – that is not the case. I’ll highlight a handful of readings and events in the coming week that are sure to be inspiring, or, at the very least, intriguing. As always, please reference the Prairie Lights and The Writing University websites for any changes or updates to the events listed below.
On Monday, Blueberry Morningsnow will be joining fellow Rescue Press-er Melissa Dickey at Prairie Lights for a reading from their recent books of poetry, Whale in the Woods and The Lily Will, respectively. As an Iowa City resident and former member of the St. Louis bands The Star Death and Hroom Hroom, Morningsnow’s reading is sure to be at once comfortable and breathtaking. Proclaimed as poetry, “Inhabited by spirits, shadows, and ghosts harmonizing from the bleak and muddy bottoms of The Lake – the One and Only Lake,” Morningsnow’s Whale in the Woods is an experience of the unexpected being happened upon expectantly. An archaeological dig through the strangeness of existence, a world where, according to Sabrina Orah Mark, “God is a fossil, and the woods is a fossil…hello is a fossil, and goodbye is a fossil.”
Melissa Dickey’s The Lily Will, an unassuming book “bound in a square and barely larger than your hand” assumes a large answer to a profound question: “What is earthly? An impulse to paradise.” Fragility, mundanity, and a focus towards minimalism define and permeate each of these poems as they struggle to break into something grander, more ethereal, more paradisiacal. Dickey focuses on quiet places, or moods, in the hope that such effort may explode such simple vistas into comprehensive understanding. This transcendent desire from the mundane may also manifest itself in a desperate light at times, as if Dickey demands or begs significance from her environment’s subtleties: “I wish I was so mystical as to be moved/ by you, behind me, singing.// No, the factual reaction is not free/ of desire. When I look at hills/ I expect ruins…This is the hour of lust…When you share a bed you find/ other ways of hiding.”
On Wednesday, Carl Klaus, founder of the University of Iowa Nonfiction Program, and Ned Stuckey-French will read and discuss their recently edited collection Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time. Following a vein similar to John D’Agata’s Lost Origins of the Essay and The Next American Essay, along with Robert Atwan’s Best American Essay series, Klaus and Stuckey-French’s work aims to validate and further solidify the essay as a viable and fertile literary form. As the title alludes, the collection features a variety of essays and fragments from canonical essayists writing about the essay’s form and function – a topic which has been hotly debated and questioned since the medium’s conception. Following the contention surrounding John D’Agata’s recent The Lifespan of a Fact, Klaus and Stuckey-French’s work provides clarification and confusion in equal parts for a medium that could arguably be simultaneously defined by those two words.
Finally, on Thursday, Sands Hall, actor, playwright, and author of the novel Catching Heaven, will host a seminar in Biology Building East at 11:00 AM titled Into the Woods, Down to the Underworld. Whether it be Homer’s Odyssey, Snow White, or Dante’s “gloomy wood”, throughout the history of literature our protagonists have often grappled with the dark and mysterious allure of the of the woods and the underworld. Hall aims to explore the idea of the hero immersed in “a descent into difficulty,” entering a strange land or plane that tests their will. Why is this such a common thread through many of our narratives? How may we understand and implement this idea of the “protagonist grappling with darkness in order to rise to light” in our own fictions? Hall will address these questions in an event that is sure to be wide in scope and applicability.