We have discovered the joys of domestic travel. There is as much to see in the United States as in any country we have visited--or more! The US is full of hidden gems. Last June, after spending some time in Kansas City, we traveled through Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, three states not necessarily known for their tourism, but which we learned are LOADED with things to see.
Here is a map of our meanderings. We began in Kansas City and nearby sites in Missouri (bottom middle), then drove north to Des Moines. From there we went east to Iowa City and West Branch, then turned around and went back through Des Moines and west to Council Bluffs. Next was Winter Quarters, Nebraska, followed by Omaha and Lincoln (left side of map above center). Continuing south, we went to Abilene, Kansas, then turned east towards Topeka, ending up back in Kansas City.
Our longest drive was the first stretch from Kansas City to Iowa City, a distance of about 300 miles. However, we like to drive, and we had a good book going from our Audible.com acount (Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson), so we didn't mind.
We left in the late afternoon so we could sleep in Iowa City and get an early start the next day.
I fell head-over-heels in love with radiant Iowa. (And with Kansas. And with Nebraska.)
The University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, had the first creative writing degree program in the US and today has one of the most respected writing programs in the country, known informally as the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Graduates of the program have won seventeen Pulitzer Prizes, six have been US Poet Laureates, and several others have won the National Book Award, MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, and other major honors.
|"THE OLD STONE CAPITOL Builded by the Territory of Iowa,|
out of stone quarried from the banks of the Iowa River.
Occupied by the government of the territory of Iowa from 1842-1846
and by the government of the State of Iowa from 1846 to 1857."
Once the capital was moved to Des Moines, this building was gifted to the University of Iowa.
The historic Old Capitol provides a regal background for the Literary Walk, a series of bronze relief panels set into the sidewalk in 2000 and 2001. They illustrate the words of 49 writers who have ties to Iowa. The artwork for each selection is by Greg LeFevre. All types of literature are represented--novels, poetry, children's books, memoirs, plays, and short stories. I took pictures of about two-thirds of the pieces. I was drawn to either the quote or the image (or both). Which is your favorite image? Your favorite quote?
|Paul Engle (1908-1991): "Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held|
together by the delicate, tough skin of words." (From "Poetry Is Ordinary Language Raised
to the Nth Power," a book review in The New York Times)
|Rita Dove (1952 - ): "Sometimes a word is found so right it trembles at the slightest explanation."|
(From her poem "O" in The Yellow House on the Corner)
|Vance Bourjaily (1922-2010): "Here we go. The quest is on again. There's lots to do, many voices|
to hear and some to heed." (From the novel Now Playing at Canterbury)
|Stephen Greenleaf (1942 - ): The plane descended over the heroic quilt of soil, bounced twice on|
the black and shiny tarmac, and taxied to the terminal unimpeded by other traffic."
(From his novel Fatal Obsession)
|Black Hawk (1767-1838): "How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make|
right look like wrong, and wrong like right." (From his autobiography)
|Aesop: "Words may be deeds." (I'm pretty sure Aesop doesn't have any connections to Iowa.)|
|Ethan Canin (1960 - ): "'I'm an old man and I want you to do something for me. Put down your bicycle,'|
I said. 'Put down your bicycle and look up at the stars.'" (From his short story "Emperor of the Air.")
|Mona Van Duyn (1921 - 2004): "Anger, resentment, self-pity, what were they but weeds to be|
chopped out fast to make more room for the crop, the only crop that rich land wanted."
(From her poem "Falls.")
|James Galvin (1951 - ): "The history of the meadow goes like this: No one owns it,|
no one ever will." (From his novel The Meadow)
|Tennessee Williams (1911-1983): "We're all of us sentenced to solitary|
confinement inside our own skins, for life!" (From his
play Orpheus Descending)
|Susan Glaspell (1876-1948): "She isn't dead. Anything about her is alive. She belongs to the world.|
But the family doesn't seem to know that." (From her play Alison's House)
|Jane Smiley (1949 - ): "I have noticed before that there is a category of acquaintanceship that is not friendship or business or romance, but speculation, fascination." (From her short story "Goodwill")|
|Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007): "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about|
what we pretend to be." (From his novel Mother Night)
|Frank Conroy (1936-2005): "You must imagine the music in your head.|
Imagine it shaped and balanced the way you want it. Get it in your head
and then believe in it. Concentrate, believe, and your fingers will do it."
(From his novel Body & Soul)
|Hamlin Garland (1860-1940): "The silence of the prairie at night was well-nigh terrible."|
(From his short story "Among the Corn-Rows")
|Robert Dana (1929-2010): "The small towns of the strange middle of our lives remain small.|
Streets wintry even in summer . . . " (From his poem "Summer is a Very Small Town")
|Chris Offutt (1958 - ): "The midwestern land has a softly undulating quality, like concentric circles|
spreading from a rock tossed into a farm pond." (From his memoir The Same River Twice)
|John Irving (1942 - ): "To each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread. We were|
just a family, In a family even exaggerations make perfect sense."
(From his novel The Hotel New Hampshire)
|Jorie Graham (1951 - ): ". . . someone laughs upstairs|
but it's really wings rustling up there
on a cold current called history"
(From her poem "The Phase after History")
|James Tate (1943 - ) "I've seen fox, deer, wild turkey, pheasant, skunk, snakes, moles, guinea hens.|
I've thrown a boomerang that never came back." (From his poem "In My Own Backyard")
|Margaret Walker (1915-1998): "The summer then was like an idyll, a season of peace, when|
all the agitation of the violent world around them seemed suspended, and they felt secure."
(From her novel Jubilee)
|Marvin Bell (1937 - ): "And the color yellow regrets it was never green, and the east and the west long|
to trade places, and the shadow would like just once to come out on top."
(From his poem "Poem in Orange Tones")
|Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964): Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers.|
My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."
(From a book of essays, Mysteries and Manners: Occasional Prose)
|William L. Shirer (1904-1993): "On the very eve of the birth of the Third Reich a feverish |
tension gripped Berlin." (from his history The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich)
|Amy Clampitt (1920-1994): "The axe is laid at the root of the ash tree. The leaves of dispersal, |
the runaway pages, surround us. Who will hear? Who will gather them in?"
(From her poem "Sed de Correr")
Walking along the sidewalk is almost like strolling through a labyrinth, but with a little more intellectual stimulation.
Besides the thought-provoking excerpts embedded underfoot, there are other literary works and allusions at eye-level. A giant book opened to "A Plowman Sings," a poem by Jay G. Sigmund, dominates a corner:
The "cover" of the book shows the plowed fields referenced in the poem:
A boutique named for Don Quixote's beloved is on another corner:
Around the corner is a wall of fanciful murals:
There must be literary allusions here that I'm missing:
An alley has a mural of a different sort:
As a lover of great literature, I give the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk an A+.