Dispatches from Iowa City's Rescue Press Reading

Hope Callahan

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a packed reading at Prairie Lights which featured two recent books of poetry published by Rescue Press. Co-editor Danny Khalatschi introduced both poets, beginning with Bridgette Bates. Bates earned her MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and now lives in L.A., where she is the writer-in-residence at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and frequently contributes to Kirkus Reviews.

At the podium, Bates described the last year of her life as hectic. "Bringing a baby and a book into the world," she said, made for an interesting period of time. The winner of the 2014 Black Box Poetry Prize, What Is Not Missing is Light places Bates in direct conversation with the muse via statues in various states of decay and preservation. With the slightest of Southern twangs, Bates read poems from her collection that alternated focus between museum exhibits and patrons of those museums. My favorite lines, out of many possible favorites, were "What is the opposite of apocalypse? / She is a statue of that."

Following Bates' reading, Lauren Haldeman read poems from her book Calenday, also published by Rescue Press. Another alumnus of the Writers' Workshop, Haldeman explained the breakdown of the book much in the same way as Robin Schiff did when reviewing it: "Part elegy, part exultation." Taking the podium, Haldeman said, "Well, I'm going to start from the beginning." The beginning in this case is the birth of her daughter. The book developed out of small day journals Haldeman kept in the first years of caring for her newborn. The language in Calenday is utterly readable and conveys the simultaneous joy and confusion in being the steward of another human life. At multiple times during the reading, the entire second floor of Prairie Lights was united in laughter. Particularly after "06/17," which is worth quoting in its entirety:

Making a baby
is strange: how a golden fish
dies in a cave full of
plasma—& pretty soon there's this
huge crying computer.

Of course it wasn't all laughter. The latter part of the book is an elegy for Haldeman's brother. In "Demolition," Haldeman explores the privacy of the dead, the secrets they take with them that can never be recovered. Ending on another sad but somehow hopeful note, Haldeman presented a type of shadow puppet show called a "cranky" about the loss of a beloved but destructive childhood rabbit. The show ended with a slow drawing back, from the yard to the country to the world to the universe. The rabbit was never found, and, perhaps because of that, it can be imagined as existing anywhere and everywhere simultaneously.

Listen: Lauren Haldeman and Bridgette Bates, Live from Prairie Lights, November 6, 2014