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
Nell Regan: the title of the anthology, Town Stitched by River, is taken from one of her poems, Iowa City Sestina. Photograph: Eric Luke
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.
For an account of a sojourn on the International Writers’ Program, see Paddy Woodworth’s recent article.