Life in Iowa City

Before I came to Iowa City I was warned that it’s a small town without much going on, someone even told me it was ugly and boring. It might have something to do with the quest of the poet to find beauty in chaos or the beauty of chaos, or how drudgery and the ‘everyday’ is an art in itself (and perhaps this is how so many of us find ourselves in perplexing relationships that puzzle our friends and families, the poet is a master at finding something to love no matter what) but I can’t wait to report back to said person that they were/ are absolutely wrong. Sure, it isn’t mesmerizingly beautiful like Milford Sound, it doesn’t have the godlike features of Queenstown or the sparkle and rush of Auckland – and the incomparable produce and ethnic diversity that comes with it, but Iowa City rewards big thinkers. The skyline seems to be in cahoots with the university, giving space, nourishment, and inspiration to all that seek it. In saying that, I own that my experience is somewhat coloured, okay – more like generously lacquered, through a particular lens of representing New Zealand for the International Writing Program’s Fall Residency, enjoying lots of literary and cultural events with some of the most exciting writers on the planet. When we’re not in front of our computers, you can spot us in clusters at the farmers market, eating yet again at Bread Garden, turning up early to the Iowa City Public Library panels every Friday, we’re the sea of strange accents looking warily at the sky trying to outrun imminent rain.

Between the three months I spent working on a funding application to get here and the following three months of gritting my teeth and waiting for the outcome, working days packed to the gills in my full time job, unable to sleep as I revved up towards launching my new book and the ensuing vulnerability of offering up my organs, yet again, to a public so attuned to one kind of prose – I guess it’s safe to say that my expectations of this residency were in the same vein as my maxed out, stressed out, but highly rewarding life: I saw it as another professional project to be completed professionally. From the vantage point of my office back in Auckland, I looked toward Iowa in the months ahead and saw a vision of myself tapping away busily night after night into the early hours, herbal tea at my side with The National playing in the background. Instead, I’ve found kindred spirits who understand the challenges and joys of being sensitive deeply feeling people – who understand the risks and rewards of what it means to have a voice and the immense responsibility that comes with it. We’ve all left something behind to be here – partners, children, pets, jobs, friends and family that we’re all missing. Thankfully we have each other.

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A somewhat delirious walk around town in the midst of a fever, I felt hotter than the sun, but was so sick of my hotel room I had to get out. A few snatches of conversation I overheard during my virus haze: the problem with Iowa City is all the fucking white concrete / my mom is great, she just has no compassion / if I didn’t want to be with you I wouldn’t have moved in with you / we need to eat before we drink in the day / they’re in love, obviously, he likes all her posts.
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Hubbard Park across the road from the hotel, it may look all quiet and peaceful – but it’s often transformed into a hub of student activity. On Sunday they were blasting hip hop with so many cuss words at max volume that several writers couldn’t rest. I had a little giggle to myself walking into town with my footsteps in time with something incomprehensible asides from bitch, fuck and some kind of drug induced drawl. Original hip hop has words you can actually understand and relate to! Sometimes this new stuff makes me feel so old because asides from the meaty bass it sounds like shit.
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Freshmen signing up to different clubs and groups. Had to snap this because I remember my first year of Uni and how excited I was to join all sorts of stuff. They had free popcorn and also free tacos and corn chips. There were some really great groups I would’ve liked to sign up to just for fun, but I resisted my natural Kiwi urges ‘that liiks untristing un duffrnt!’ and kept walking.
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Prairie Lights upstairs, the best bookstore in Iowa City hands down I reckon, and I like the cafe a lot – the girls are really nice, the wifi is good, there’s a massive selection of tea, and all of the journals and magazines upstairs are rad. I’m becoming more and more committed to standing at the border between literature and design, I think that’s pretty obvious in ‘Tail of the Taniwha’ – and Prairie Lights has some really interesting material that totally reflects that vibe such as Ninth Letter the spring/ summer 2016 issue is exquisite inside and out.
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On a morning walk with Henriikka Tavi along the river. We always have such amazing conversations, after our walk I wrote a short piece called ‘River Sisters’ and I plan on developing it more while I’m here. Henriikka gave me a copy of her book with Mikael Brygger entitled ‘In large, well-organized termite colonies’ – the ideas in this work are mind blowing and you can search that title and find a pdf. The book is both instructions for an installation and fragments of numbered squared poems that appear in interesting and unexpected shifts.
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Giant flag on the bus to Coralville. The bus rides are a flat fee of $1, please take note Auckland Transport, different fares for different ‘stages’ is so 90s!
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‘The Iowa Old Capitol Building was once the main government building for the state of Iowa, and it now stands as the most prominent landmark at the center of the University of Iowa’s campus’ It’s very pretty and stately and somewhere I would like to dance inside of with a flute of champagne in each hand. It’s also just across the road from my hotel and on our first tour here I was told that people refer to it as the golden dick, which seems a bit off as the top looks far more like a golden nipple to me. Food for thought.
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Morning walk along the river while also talking about serial killers and freaking ourselves out. Followed by our daily breakfast at the hotel of boiled eggs, toast, and fruit.
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My first reading at the Yacht Club a couple of weeks back. Putting the ‘go’ in go hard or go home! It was a really special night and despite a few of us getting caught in the rain on our way to the bar, everyone had a great time. I had been a little nervous in the lead up and planned to play it safe and read some prose from my new book. I had a chat with my mum the day before and as always, she set me straight: ‘you’re there to be your fullest self, don’t hide who you are.” I’m glad I took her advice and performed some poetry instead.
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