Hitting the streets: What does poetry mean to you?

Kate Kraabel

Sometimes poetry gets left out. Novels become movies or television shows, essays become documentaries, and the world knows about them. To be blunt, the only truly bestselling poets are dead. Even avid readers of The Iowa Review can probably name only a few poets off the tops of their heads, and topping that list would likely be people like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost.

As a class project for Iowa's undergraduate creative writing track in poetry, a few of my classmates and I set out to bring poetry into the community of Iowa City and the larger community of the internet. We went out into the streets of Iowa City with a video camera, asking people two things:

One: Tell us your favorite poet, and why.
Two: Describe your relationship with poetry in one word.

Many came up with things like “distant” and “Robert Frost, because he was the only one I read in high school.” But one young woman cited Virgil and went on to describe how Virgil’s poetry changed the world.

Check out the videos:

Favorite Poet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CKyhfJ_muw

One Word: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DJsMWhYPhk

But we did more than just ask the people of Iowa City what they thought about poetry. We also interviewed two up-and-coming poets, and put those interviews on YouTube as well. Nikki-Lee Birdsey and Chris Schlegel are both graduate students in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Nikki-Lee is from New Zealand and is poetry editor for The Iowa Review. Chris is from Pennsylvania and teaches upper-level undergraduate poetry classes at the University of Iowa. And neither of them is about to give up writing just because the world doesn’t know much about contemporary poetry.

Here are those two videos:

Nikki-Lee Birdsey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp0Y3FYiGyQ

Chris Schlegel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlXUXhh3Rqs

There’s a bit of a disconnect between the poets people name on the spot and the poets writing today. My classmates and I hope that these videos will do a little bit to change that. Two modern poets are now out in the world of the internet, answering the same questions the students of Iowa City are, and coming up with very different answers. I hope these videos have shown you that the distance between poets and the rest of the world is not so great that we can’t cross it.

Kate Kraabel is a senior English major at the University of Iowa and a summer intern at The Iowa Review.