May Flowers

Saturday, I helped Writers on the Avenue wrap up National Poetry Month with a poetry festival that featured free workshops for poets of all ages, an open mic, readings by the winners of our poetry contest, and then readings by our insanely talented workshop leaders, Ryan Collins and Farah Marklevits, and my favorite poet in the world, Lauren K. Alleyne. I felt like the top of my head was lifting, just as Emily Dickinson described it. Where else can you walk into a room and hear someone saying “We all come from slime / Even alpacas” and “The Declaration of Independence was written with a feather” and “Everything has a purpose from which it must be freed / Maybe with crowbars.” I think we invented something we’re calling applied poetry. I know for sure I met a wonderful group of people from all over who were brave, inspiring, and willing to share their work. It made me want to write poetry. It made me want to think like a poet, and therefore be able to write poetry. It was so stimulating, so inspiring, so educative, and all FREE, thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine.

I’m a little in awe, frankly, of all the wonderful things I have coming up. This Saturday I’ll be part of the staff at the Creativity Camp offered each year by the Great River Poets Society of Burlington, to be held at Langwood Education Center. It’s my first time attending, and my first time working with this topic, “Creating Other Worlds,” so I can’t wait to see what emerges in conversation with these folks. Tuesday, May 10 is our monthly Writers on the Avenue meeting (which I’m writing a poem for—inspired by the poetry festival, of course) but I also want to go have a beer at the Great River Brewery in Davenport that night to support the Midwest Writing Center, so I have to figure out how to pull a Hermione and be in two places at once.

That, and I also have to pack, because Wednesday May 11 my composition students will get their final grades and I will be off to Kalamazoo, MI, for the International Medieval Congress. I’ve made it a habit to go every other year, even in these years when I’m more of what you would call an independent scholar; maybe I need it for precisely that reason. It’s also hugely energizing to get infused with the latest scholarship, catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while, and hook in to what the medievalists are doing.

But as soon as I get back, final grades are due, then I head up to Wisconsin to celebrate an event very dear to my heart: the scholarship luncheon held by the South Wood county community foundation, Incourage, at which I get to meet the student who is being awarded the Traci Urban Memorial Scholarship this year. I don’t always get to make the banquet, but every year I have a hand in reading applications for the scholarship, and every year I am duly impressed by the ambition, heart, compassion, and courage of the students who apply. They truly give me hope for the world, if we have future leaders like these. I don’t like to play the game, “what would Traci be doing if she were alive now”—that just smarts too much. But I do feel grateful that her friends and family pitched in to honor her memory with this scholarship that fuels and funds others with passions like hers.

After that, it’s nose to the grindstone for the book projects that have had to take second place to other concerns: the volume of essays on Melusine, whose contributors are patiently and eagerly awaiting some editorial guidance; the novel, which I thought finished but of course is now telling me it wants one more round of fine-tuning before I send it out to agents; the second story collection, which has come together and wants to be sent out to contests for consideration. (Hey, I got really lucky with the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award—why not try that again?)

But there are readings I want to schedule for A Lesson in Manners, a book launch party to plan, the David Collins Writer’s Conference coming up at the Midwest Writing Center, and so many wonderful summer events going on around here. And I want to make sure I spend some quality time with my kids, so I don’t feel like their entire childhood whisked by while I was absorbed in my own work. I feel like the whole summer might disappear as quickly as the spring has, and I want to make sure I take the time to enjoy it.

Like Jasmine said to Aladdin, “It’s all so magical.” I’m fortunate, and I know it, to have found all the wonderful opportunities I’ve found here in Muscatine, and to met the people I have, and to learn what I’m learning. One of the lessons has to be taking the time to slow down and look around, find my center, breathe the air, notice rhythm and beauty and growth and change. Watch my kids’ hair wave in the breeze as they jump in their bouncy house or splash in the pool. Feel summer sunlight on my face, my favorite feeling in the world. Remember there’s a body attached to this head. And there are people who love me waiting for me to surface from my own head-space, once in a while. These are the days of miracle and wonder, indeed.

May Flowers

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