ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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MAY 14, 2020  |  VIEW AS WEBPAGE
Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Debra Marquart, Iowa's poet laureate, says poetry has been a place of shelter or wisdom during the pandemic.


By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Don’t feel bad if you missed National Poetry Month. This April wasn’t normal. There were, you know, a few other things that demanded our attention. In these strange and anxious times, poetry might be just what we need.

"It’s been interesting to see how much people are relying on poetry to find some wisdom or a place to shelter," says Debra Marquart, Iowa's poet laureate, who teaches at Iowa State University.

But poetry can be more than a pacifier. "It informs and argues and creates awareness," she says. "It’s not that poetry is just a calming-down medicine. It can also be an antidote to poison."

When asked for recommendations, Marquart had three at the ready:

  • Robert Bly’s translations of the ecstatic poems by Kabir, the 15th-century Indian mystic, was the first book Marquart turned to after the coronavirus broke out. In her words, it’s about "the human spirit and the human imagination."

  • The poem "Japan" by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, contrasts the permanence of a 1-ton temple bell with the fleeting life of a moth sleeping on the bell’s surface. It makes Marquart think "about what goes on, what lasts, what sustains itself beyond these day-to-day troubles and larger catastrophes that we’re in the middle of right now."

  • Robert Hayden’s poem "Those Winter Sundays" recalls how his father rose early every Sunday morning, "in the blueblack cold," to stoke a fire and warm the house before his son got out of bed. The poet "remembers speaking indifferently to his father and he regrets that," Marquart says. "I love that poem right now because there are these small things we’re doing for each other, these small but meaningful gestures that signify what it means to be human."

Marquart recently teamed up with Humanities Iowa to launch an online video series called "Poems Across the Distance," in which she interviews other Iowa poets and reads some of their work, as well as her own.

"There’s a really vibrant literary culture in Iowa," she says. "We need to lift that up and celebrate it and think about what’s unique about the state and what we have to offer the national conversation."

Because these days, especially, there is plenty to say.
Wooded bluffs and sandstone cliffs line the Boone River near Webster City.


The canoe is America’s original watercraft and still one of the best ways to explore inland waterways in the quiet embrace of nature.That’s especially true in Iowa. Flanked by two of America’s great rivers, most of the state is veined with gentle streams and rills, serenaded by prairie birds and the ripples that rush around rocks.

"There’s just no better place to be," says Nate Hoogeveen, who wrote the definitive book on the subject: "Paddling Iowa: 128 Outstanding Journeys by Canoe and Kayak."

The Boone River has all the ingredients a paddler loves, Hoogeveen reports—wooded bluffs, sandstone cliffs, some fast riffles for fun, and water clear enough to support game fish including bass and walleye.

For a 7.5-mile stretch, put in at Albright’s Canoe Access on the west side of the river, about three miles south of Webster City and just above Barner Wildlife Area. (Or you can start two miles farther downstream at Bevers Bridge Access.) This isn’t a route for a complete novice, Hoogeveen cautions. You’ll start out with a rush: After a long riffle, the river pours over an underwater ledge with surfable waves. For less excitement through this part, stay to the right.

Paddlers are rewarded by lush scenery, a large island and sandbars suitable for picnics. You’ll be flanked several times by limestone cliffs and you’ll encounter a dramatic wooded bluff that looms more than 100 feet over the river. Pull out at Tunnel Mill Access, about 150 yards before County Road R27’s Tunnel Mill Bridge.
Ange Altenhofen hasn't allowed her poor eyesight to diminish her passion for art. Photo: Bruce Bales.


By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

How do you teach blind kids about the stars?

The Chariton artist Ange Altenhofen, whose own eyesight is limited, started wondering about that a while ago when she read a children’s book about astronomy. She figured it would be easier if you could somehow pull down the sky within easy reach.

So that’s what she did. With an Iowa Arts Council fellowship, she’s spent the last few months stitching Braille beadwork onto a black velvet parachute, like constellations that spangle the great beyond. When she exhibits the piece, called "Night Fell," she’ll hang it from the gallery ceiling and let it drape down to the floor.

"It’s like a planetarium collapsing. I want people to walk across it," she says. "I love the idea of touching the stars."

Altenhofen developed a keener interest in tactile perception when she was diagnosed with presumed ocular histoplasmosis, a degenerative eye condition that could eventually lead to blindness. The ink was still wet on her MFA in sculpture and ceramics from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ironically, she had to expand her artistic vision even as her eyesight diminished. "I started freaking out when I was first diagnosed," she says. "What kind of art does a blind person make? How do you negotiate that in your life and transform it into something that’s really interesting?"

Read more about Altenhofen’s story and her work, including a recent show at the Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames, on the Iowa Arts Council blog.
The musical "Fiddler on the Roof" comes to Iowa State Center's Stephens Auditorium on March 2.
Photo: Otterbein University Theatre and Dance.


Iowa State Center's Stephens Auditorium has announced its 2020-21 Performing Arts Series schedule, featuring an eclectic mix of musicals, tribute bands, string orchestras and comedy. The season kicks off on Sept. 29 with the Russian String Quartet. Highlights of the lineup include the musicals "Anatasia" and "Fiddler on the Roof," which come to Ames on back-to-back weekends (Feb. 25 and March 2, 2021, respectively). The full schedule:

  • Russian String Orchestra, Sept. 29
  • The Fab Four, Oct. 3
  • Whose Live Is It Anyway? Oct. 9
  • Capitol Steps, Oct. 19
  • Ballet Hispanico, Jan. 25
  • Drumline Live, Jan. 30
  • "South Pacific," Feb. 9
  • "Anatasia," Feb. 25
  • "Fiddler on the Roof," March 2
  • Prague Symphony Orchestra, March 5
  • Nathan Carter, March 7
  • Velocity, March 26
  • "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," April 8

Iowa State Center is establishing cleaning protocols and discussing the possibility of social distancing and personal protective equipment becoming part of events. Performances will not take place until state and federal guidelines deem it to be safe. Ticket refunds and exchanges will be available.
There’s a good deal of walking involved in tending the 6,000 daylilies at Walkabout Gardens. Photo: Karla Conrad.


By Veronica Fowler

Keeping up with Nan Ripley is a challenge.

Chattering a mile a minute, she’s doing a power walk through her 9 1/2 acres of stunning, ambitious beds and borders, trailed all the while by her beloved German shepherd, Savannah. Ripley is old enough to have retired from her office assistant job at Iowa State University years ago, but she isn’t about to slow down.

Instead, she’s redoubled her gardening efforts. Her beautiful landscape, located a few miles east of Nevada, boasts a connoisseur’s collection of trees and conifers. Over the past 20 years, it’s her passion for daylilies that she’s become best known for—garnering the attention of ia and another little magazine, Martha Stewart Living.

Not only does Ripley grow daylilies, she also hybridizes them, carefully cross-pollinating promising cultivars and growing out the resulting offspring. She has won many national awards for her work and introduced an impressive 43 named varieties recognized by the American Hemerocallis (Daylily) Society. Her acreage is also recognized as an official AHS National Display Garden.

Read the rest of the story from ia magazine.
Kevin Scharpf, owner and chef with Brazen Open Kitchen in Dubuque, shows how to make potato-wrapped halibut.


Located just blocks away from the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Brazen Open Kitchen is known for its sourcing of local ingredients and dishes made from scratch. Owner and chef Kevin Scharpf is the man responsible for the eatery's popularity.

On the latest dsm CultureCast What's Cooking in Iowa Restaurants, Scharpf shows how to make one of his favorite recipes, potato-wrapped halibut, at home. Not only is the meal relatively easy to make, but it also takes just a few ingredients: fresh halibut (or any other white fish), potatoes, butter, rosemary, asparagus and an optional tomato confiture. Find the video and recipe here.

Read more about Brazen Open Kitchen, including its bold concept and simplicity, in ia magazine.
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