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.