Town Stitched by River, an Irish in Iowa anthology

A hand-printed anthology of the work of Irish authors on Iowa’s International Writers’ Program takes its name from this poem by Nell Regan, Iowa City Sestina

To mark the partnership of Dublin and Iowa City as Unesco Cities of Literature, Christopher Merrill and Irish publisher Alan Hayes have edited an anthology of work by some of the Irish writers who have participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa since 1979, including John Banville, Sebastian Barry and Eavan Boland.

Town Stitched by River was launched with author readings at the residence of the US ambassador, Kevin O’Malley, last month. It is published in a handsome hand-printed limited edition designed by Shari DeGraw in Iowa City. It will be available in Dublin public libraries shortly. The title is taken from one of the poems in the anthology, Iowa City Sestina, by Nell Regan:

Iowa City Sestina

This town is stitched by river –

that finds and winds its way through trees

whose leaves curl yellow and every poem

is found to contain it, them and cicada

call - perhaps they too stand for longing

forded by an imagined Atlantic bridge.

Outside my window the bridge

of green, wrought iron spans the river

asks what is there to miss? It will not be long

love, till you find me under this tree

straining to describe the cicada

song that is shot though this poem.

Each avenue of the city, a walking poem

of considered views that yield to bridges

over which the chatter and clatter of cicada

curls and pulls time forward in a river-

ing flow while leaf considers tree

and the blue reflection of sky is longing

for river just as water is longing

for colour much as word yearns for poem

or its echo in a lover’s ear. The tree

stands alone, says desire less, bridge

with what you have here and the river

will carry to you all the cicada

pulse and call of a continent. Wish cicada

tymbal on the banks of all Iowas along

the Mississippi as it rivers

out through prairie, plain and poem.

The pitched sough of the train that bridges

the night, freights stories of cornfield, of oak tree

to the city’s gridded morning where trees

anoint the grass with shade, students read, cicada

conversations fade. Later, stepping to the bridge

the Capitol dome will throw its gold reflection, elong-

ating the reach of a September dusk where a poem

or thought might constellate. Deep in the river

open mouthed carp gape up at trees, long

branches pooling on its ceiling while cicada-poem

clicks, calls forth a silent bridge to span the river.

Nell Regan’s latest collection is One Still Thing, Enitharmon Press.

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