tiger poetry

The mini raspberry pie called to me.

The Amish man had them lined up in rows according to flavor, each pie perfect and plump and individually sized. With a full beard and a hat tipped jauntily on his head, he sold me my very own red raspberry pie for three dollars and was about to wrap it up when I said, “no, I’ll probably just eat it now.” So he handed me a plastic fork, I sat on a beach, listened to a ‘famous’ Iowan folk band play in the park, and I ate my pie. And then I went to Prairie Lights, the independent bookstore in town for a very funny reading by the director of Iowa’s nonfiction writing program. And then, pie and book reading completed, I strolled home. On sidewalks, grass poking through cracks, under green leafy trees with white trunks, past brick churches and stately homes, college students and couples sitting out in the fading light on those Midwest porches my mother so dearly loves. And still, as I stroll, the light fades. It’s been fading for half an hour now, and I realize it’s nine o’clock and it’s still fading, the streetlights only now beginning to emerge in gold orbs.

I love Iowa City.

I arrived to Des Moines on Sunday afternoon, and found the lovely parents of a friend from college awaiting me with friend’s car, which I was to borrow for the week. Her mom had equipped the car with almonds, a water bottle, and homemade vegan cookies—perfect Midwest hospitality—and I was off for a two-hour drive through Iowa farmland to reach my destination. Iowa farmland, to my surprise, is just beautiful. I came at the perfect moment, I realize, weather-wise, between the heat of summer and the 40 below days of winter. The land is draped in green, the sky a swash of blue punctuated by cheerful clouds.

So, along I tooled at 70 miles an hour, enjoying the scenery, when a road signed flashed at us all: Accident Ahead 10 Miles. Expect Delays. Merge Left. And I kid you not—everyone merged left. Immediately. I was in the left lane already, passing a truck, and suddenly found the left crawling along at 10 miles an hour and the right light, mysteriously empty. I mean, empty. Now, if the same sign were to appear in Los Angeles, every driver would speed up and rush to the scene of the accident—got to get there first, butt ahead in line, and I’m only merging when I see a dead body. Seriously. But, in Des Moines, everyone pleasantly stepped aside, and caused a self-imposed and totally illogical traffic jam.

I thought about darting out and tooling in the right lane until the accident, but as I was driving a car with an Iowa license plate, I thought I should shed my LA-induced temptations and give into the delay. And so we inched forward. It seemed about like ten miles had passed when I drove by a lone tow-truck, the driver just then climbing into it. He surveyed the line behind me and began inching solo along the side of the road, motioning the cars to come into the right lane. And so, I did, as well as five or ten others. We tooled along the right lane, passing car after car toiling in the left. And there they stayed, in the left, for miles after the accident had already been cleared off the road. Bizarre.

I also passed six dead and mangled deer scattered on the side of the road in my two hours, so I kept a keen eye out for jumping creatures. All in all, a fairly action packed drive through farmland.

I arrived in Iowa City and found Joe and Julia, the couple whose home I had arranged to rent a room in. They’ve hosted many writers before, both for the summer festival and the two-year MFA program. My room is adorable, a writer’s room (a room of one’s own, dare I say). The north wall is covered by a ceiling to floor bookshelf, a giant desk situated before it; my bed is nestled beneath a window on the south wall that looks out through a canopy of leaves and down to the street two stories below. Their home is cozy and warm (well, actually, it’s breezy and cool with the window open, but you know). It’s the perfect retreat, and they are just so nice. (They run an environmental website, Blue Planet Green Living.)

So my days thus far have been filled with writing, classes and lectures, book readings and reading books. And coffee. Iowa City is a writer’s city, and as they know and have perfected, writers love a good latte. But really—Iowa City is a writer’s city; it is a Megan city. Arching quotes by famous writers and thinkers imprint the sidewalks downtown, statues scatter around town immortalizing the same. I peeked my head into the bar the Flannery O’Connor is reported to have frequented when she was sulking around Iowa City.

My first impression of the city is that it is Boulder without the pretension, hippies (both imitation and real), and hoards of money flying around. It’s reasonably priced and very walk-able, and very much a university town, with heaps of undergrads wandering around even during the summer.

I’ve met with three University of Iowa professors who have all been incredibly informative and inspirational, so just for that it’s been worth the trip. My class is nice. To be fair, I do have an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing, so I’m well practiced in the rigmarole of workshopping, and it’s unfair to expect the same of others. However, I also know you spell out ‘nine’ and not 54, you put punctuation inside of quotes, and you indent new paragraphs, which is what we spent half an hour discussing today in class. I’m also a native English speaker, which is more I can say for the incredibly intelligent and nice Malaysian man in my class, a man who rose from poverty in Malaysia to be an influential businessman, but who also enjoys spending half an hour of his allotted five minutes telling us how bizarre we Americans are (which, good point. Just know your audience and timing, sir.)

As it were, I should have expected this when I enrolled in a class entitled, “Beginning Memoir.” It’s a great class for me because it teaches how to structure and sell a non-fiction book. However, due to the loaded ‘m’ word, the class attracted quite a few folks with a chip on their shoulder, so to speak. I’m learning a lot from them, but it makes for interesting writing and class discussion, less writing than life oriented: a woman who lived for 54 years as a manic depressive; a half-black, half-Jewish woman whose grandmother kidnapped her; a gay fellow who used to be a Baptist and went to Jesus Camp. “Um. So. I went to Nicaragua…” I said the first day of class when we discussed our book ideas.

I’ve been pelted with much writerly advice this week. I have many a quote written down in my notebook, many of which are useful and some of which seem useful but are really just witty things writers like to say and put in quotes. My favorite thus far, as I contemplate the answer to the question I keep getting (to which I answer in past tense, of what I did, not the present of what I do), is William Packard: “You can’t write tiger poetry and live a bunny life.”

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