UR Here: Brigid Sends a Flaming Birthday Poem to Little Village

Congratulations to Little Village on its 100th issue!

February is a wonderful month to celebrate this milestone. Here in the middle lands, most people moan and groan about February. Shoveling more snow, chipping more ice, wrapping up for another foray into a sub-zero morning–“Enough!” is the cry heard round the Heartland from Columbus to Wichita, from International Falls to Jefferson City.

We’ve forgotten what a truly remarkable time of year February is. We associate January with new beginnings–Happy New Year, what’s your resolution?–and all that. But February is where it’s at when it comes to restoking the fires.

In most ancient traditions, what we call February holds special power. This power derives from the cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In February, we draw closer to rather than farther from the return of longer light. The fire returns not only to our skies, but to our arts, to our passions and to our possibilities.

In ancient Celtic culture, the cross-quarter festival is Imbolc, or Imolc, companion to autumn’s Samhain. Imbolc itself means “in the belly,” and in ancient agrarian cultures relates to the beginning of sheep’s lactation. It is a time when new life begins.

Brigid is the goddess of light to worship now, with her poetry, her healing ways and her smithing in the forge. Fire and purification are the essence of her power, and candles, holy wells and sacred flames are the symbols of reverence to her. In both ancient and Christian traditions, girls and young women prepare Brigid’s bed on St. Brigid’s Eve and young men come and pay respect to the doll icon the girls place in it. Our modern celebration of the fires of passion–Valentine’s Day–seems to me to follow clearly in the February fires that Brigid represents.

The pagans reinforced Brigid’s power to light the fires of spring with the contrasting hope that the hag goddess Cailleach would fail in a similar task. Imbolc is the day Cailleach gathers firewood for the rest of the winter. To give herself plenty of time to gather a lot of wood and thus make the winter last longer, she makes sure the weather is bright and sunny. If she fails and the day is dark and gloomy, she will stay in bed, which means spring must come sooner. Cailleach clearly is grandmother to our groundhog, whose early February cartoon ritual is really about our preparations to light our fires of passion, life and creativity once again.

So what a great month to celebrate one hundred issues of Little Village. February is also my anniversary month–I’ve been writing “UR Here” since February 2002, nine years and counting. I can hardly believe I’m approaching a decade of exploring what it means to live in place–generally, in the Midwest, and here in our beloved (and maddening) Iowa City community.

I’ve seen several editors, a number of columnists and features, and various approaches to this little but spunky and powerful publication come and go. Throughout all its changes, LV has maintained its eclecticism, its attitude, its funkiness, and its enthusiasm for the cultural life of our “little village” here in Iowa.

While maintaining a consistent character, each new editor has also brought new vision and new energy. So I’d also like to belatedly welcome our new(ish) publisher and managing editor, Matt Steele, to the fold, as well as even newer features editor, Hieu Pham and Art Director Becky Nasadowski. Matt, Hieu and Becky are already making their marks on this publication, and, again, February–and issue 100–are excellent times to celebrate the creative new directions with which they’re firing up LV.

If you’re a newcomer to Little Village or even a longtime reader, you may not appreciate how its influence in our community has grown. Over the years, LV has become not just the small but great little monthly you pick up at the coffee shop or on the street rack at the beginning of the month. It has also become an important cultural force in Iowa City, helping to sponsor, in both big and small ways, the Mission Creek Festival, Summer of the Arts, the Landlocked and Hardacre Film Festivals, the Intimate at the Englert series, the annual What a Load of Craft holiday fair, and much more. LV itself has hosted a Best Third Place Contest, an Iowa City Roast, and the new “Hot Tin Roof” creative writing initiative. It has expanded into other media, with a wonderful and extensive website that includes Little Village Live and LVtv to bring you the sights and sounds–and not just words about–Iowa City’s vibrant music scene.

Little Village is central to the “cultural creatives” of this culturally creative city. Although it rarely makes it onto the set list of “Why We Are a UNESCO City of Literature,” LV deserves to be there. It’s February, and Brigid would be proud to celebrate this mag’s century mark, and maybe even write a poem or smith something beautiful in her forge for us. Celebrate this special time with us, as LV embarks on its second hundred issues of great writing, creativity and cultural influence in this big little village in Iowa.