Iowa Young Writers’ Studio artists share work from this year’s session

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr

Each summer the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio welcomes high school-aged writers and rising college freshman from around the nation and the world to Iowa City for two two-week sessions of writing seminars, readings and workshops. These writers have the opportunity to study with published authors and dip into the rich literary history of Iowa City while producing and honing original poems and works of fiction.

During the first session, my workshop of seven talented young artists produced a series of poems and flash fiction pieces for Little Village.


By Austin Davis (Arizona)

They drop dollars
into his hat like how
fishermen release
their writhing catch
into a bucket.

Their eyes are low,
their suits are clean
and the black coffee
on their breath

tastes like
a metal hook
drawn in and out
of his jaw

as he’s caught
and released
over and over again.


By Anna Wilkinson (Georgia)

A bruise in the shape of an orange
on his cheek. A lack of bruise
on the swimming pool he shakes
himself out of. Prone bodies, on
multi-colored towels. 1, 2, 3
until he’s up and wagging his tongue
Fuck the oppressor, bro, fuck it. He thinks
since he has read Sartre he is being
smart. I tally up his points. Blue light
forms low shapes on the rising water-
mist, still curling itself into the rafters…

later to be reformed and sent down into
his body through large gulps. He’s always
had the habit of swallowing. He told us
that one night, when I asked how he
got the infection in back of his throat.
It’s all the urine in the water, man. I still want
to see inside of him, see where the aches
have landed.

He lands on his shoulder after the arm-
stand dive. The water doesn’t dip
to catch him, and I say through
the microphone something about losing.


By Ann Zhang (Missouri)

They say What is a man
without a jawline;
what is a woman without
mesoderm to separate milk
from honey? I say No blood
is blue, but a deeper red
in vena cava. They say
our arteries are bruised like
feet. Soon I will need
to cut down on cholesterol.
With my left hand I finger
the ridges of my spine,
pull apart the stones and lay
them in a ring. They examine
my knees and say Perhaps
it’s jaundice. Try harder
in the next life, maybe.


By Jess Wang (Wisconsin)

You tell me that you think about it too, sometimes. That when we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in between visiting Berkeley and Stanford, you noticed the red steel did not look too high to climb and the water below might turn to solid if someone fell with a high-enough velocity. You tell me that it is normal. I don’t need to worry.

That’s wrong. Water is Newtonian.

You tell me you didn’t know. You didn’t know that something you did seven years ago could become the only memory I have of fifth grade. You didn’t know that you would need to apologize, that I would need an explanation. I wasn’t the one whom you touched. It might as well have been me because I called the police and I heard a cry that could have been any wild animal and I held my mother while she bled into my sweater. It was blue and black with two pom-poms on the zipper. I let it hang in my closet until it was small enough to donate.

I am scared that you will kill yourself.

You say that you never could. You could never hurt yourself because you have me, but I do not know that. I do not believe that I am projecting my own thoughts. I feel your guilt in the twenty-second silence before you can say how sorry you are. Your words are sticky. My psychiatrist tells me I need to stop laughing when I talk about suicide. If only I were a product of a different experience.

I forgive you.

You tell me I cannot take the guilt away. The other girls in this unit tell me there is never an excuse for abuse, but I cannot allow myself to believe that. I would never be able to sit in the same car as you when we get anchovy pizza from a bar just outside of Madison at eleven because neither of us can sleep. I would never answer your math riddle that I have heard since I was five about a scale and six balls and a seventh ball that is heavier. I would never listen to you speak softly to my mother in the mornings without fingering the knives I have hidden under my mattress. I would never hold hands with a man without imagining them in different positions on my body.

I want to mend what you have broken.

You tell me that you are my father, and I believe you. I have read poems where time is described as a free-flowing spirit that weaves understanding through our lives. They are wrong. Time is stiff, and there is nothing I can do. You have not looked at me since I arrived at this hospital. You have not looked at me at all.


By William Everett Locke III (Massachusetts)

For my 14th birthday
My uncle gave me a beautiful
guitar, smooth, wooden,
strings a warm metal.
I couldn’t play it wrong.

I spent hours
The tips of my fingers,
the muscle
the sweet music.

This guitar can fill a room with joy,
Fill eyes with tears,
Fill the heart with warmth
And fill my fingers with a fiery burn.

I hang on,
And stretch for each new note,
Delving into the poetry of lyrics.

You never know a song
Until you’ve played it
And made it your own.


By Isibeal Owens (Alabama)

When my friends say
they worry about me,
what they really mean is
I can’t afford to send flowers
next time you’re carted off to the hospital.
This moon cycle, the water
is sweet. The creek mud dries
into mortar on my palms. I have sworn
on every life I’ve been given
that I will get better. Even so,
a beating heart doesn’t taste like much
of anything. My hands cup
the body of a crane
in the dark. My fingertips are pebbles
of coal. The feathers are so blind and wet. I check
my hair for ticks, pulling
a thread of unused years from my scalp. They
collect in a tangle on the creek bank.
I cannot begin to look upwards.


By Jess Cohen (Massachusetts)

Suburban summer, as she knew it then, was full of feminist shaped bruises and bromidic ignorance. Cambridge or Connecticut, it was all the same.

The oppressive August heat seemed to radiate from the ground, grass brittle brown and uncomfortable underneath the bare soles of Gloria’s feet. Tented netting kept the worst of the mosquitos at bay, but the summer nights in New England had been full of blood-sucking creatures for as long as she could remember. Her companions seemed not to notice, too intent on rooting for the Yankees. The buzzing of the boys and the bugs was driving her mad, and every few minutes she couldn’t help but turn her nervous eyes to the tent flap, shifting the salt strung hair that clung to her exposed back, making her sunburn itch as she ached to leave these boys who tried to tell her how to play baseball.

The Greenwich boys called her Boston Girl even though they knew her name, quizzing her on who was favored to win as Steven or Sam or Something-With-An-S fiddled with the volume knob. When John Sterling announced that the home team had scored again, the edges of Gloria’s mouth curled into a soft smile while Maybe-Sal slapped the radio and threw his cap at the dirt. He lifted his head from his hands slowly and turned back at her, Big League Chew stuffing the inside of his cheek, teeth bared into an almost-grin. “It’s late,” he began, “let’s do something fun.” The boy next to him snickered and asked Gloria what she knew about bases.

In the pitch black summer night, the hoards of mosquitos were drawn towards the tent’s sole light; she was being eaten alive. With boys bugging and mosquitoes biting, she became suddenly aware of how fast summer flies.

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