Alex Walton

recorded in Iowa City, IA

with Daniel Poppick and Adrienne Raphel

 

Poem XIVa by Catalus

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Alex Walton

I’m Alex Walton. I live in Iowa City, Iowa. On Lucas Street, we’re all on South Lucas Street, Iowa City [laughs]. No one is elsewhere.


Adrienne Raphel

[Laughs] I’m Adrienne Raphel and I too live in Iowa City, Iowa.


Daniel Poppick

I’m Dan Poppick. I also live in Iowa City, right now. I’m elsewhere though, contrary to what Alex says.


The Knox Writers’ House

How’d you get here?


Walton

Dan drove us [laughs].


Poppick

[Laughs.] Um…


Walton

Can we start over with less sarcasm? I feel like I’ve ruined this already.


Poppick

Well, I got here about a year and a half ago. I moved to Iowa City from Brooklyn. I had lived in the Midwest previously, in central Ohio, and after a couple years in Brooklyn and a little while in Missoula, Montana, I was very excited to come back to the Midwest. I think specifically because something about the landscape, actually, really helps me write. I think New York City can be a really exciting, generative place for a writer to live, but you sort of have to recalibrate yourself to not be distracted, or rather to take the distraction that is just walking down the street from place to place, and be able to stream line it and train yourself what to take in and what to not. And here, I don’t think that effort really needs to happen. The quiet allows for a different kind of attention. And when you get to know a small city like this really well, then it becomes a different animal entirely. I find a place where you can recognize someone pretty reliably when you leave your house to be a good place to write in.


Raphel

So…do you want my background too?


Poppick

Yes, your life story, please


Raphel

[In the voice of an old woman] I was born [laughs]…in New Jersey [laughs]. I lived in New Jersey until I was ten, and then my parents had a joint midlife crisis and moved the kids to Vermont, where I lived until I went to college back in New Jersey. And then I needed to break that cycle somehow [laughs], so I went to Iowa. When I was going to be a junior in high school, that summer in between, I went to the two week high school version of the Writers Workshop, and it was one of the best times I ever had. And I remember our assignment over one weekend was write 100 lines of iambic pentameter.


KWH

Oh god.


Poppick

[Laughs] And I distinctly remember that as awesome. There were five of us sitting in a laundry room at three in the morning, writing iambic pentameter. That was one of the more wonderful moments of my life, and when I was thinking about what to do after college, and how never to get a real job, I thought, “How can I do that again?” Also, I think what Dan was saying about that size of Iowa City and the landscape is really great. And obviously the people are pretty extraordinary, but I think for me there’s also a little bit of an escapist thing. I can be both slightly outside of myself and thereby more myself, by being in this place where I’ve sort of always been primarily thinking of myself as one who writes, and doing that too.


Walton

I grew up in Seattle, and I went to school there and I moved here for school, and also to be in a place where it’s easier to focus on work. I just went back to the Pacific Northwest for the holidays for the first time in a long time and it was the longest I’d ever been away and it was great and strange to see the mountains –you’re between two sets of mountains –and it’s a temperate rainforest, which I had forgotten about, and it’s great, dark, beautiful. Wherever it is, whether it’s here or in Seattle, the weather has been so important to me. It’s the outside part of you self is what the day is doing around you. And the sense, in a small town, especially, that you live in a human world that is not within your control, but is something you can understand, is really important. I was telling Adrienne earlier, I found these weather reports when I first moved here for 1882 in Iowa, and it’s the weather every day and descriptions of what happened and the notable events of each month but they also report on when the first robin came back and the first of this and the first of that and the last of this and the last of that. It’s like a comprehensible world, you know. I live in this place that can be understood by things that are in my yard. And I guess I like that. The other big different between here and Seattle is that there are actually seasons here, which is also comprehensible. It’s snowing –it’s winter. I can understand that.


KWH

Do any of you feel like after moving through your respective series of homes that your writing changed with the places you were living? Was in different writing in Brooklyn, or how did it compare to what you’re writing here or what you were writing in Seattle compared to what you started writing in Iowa.


Walton

Well, I can answer briefly. I don’t know how much the landscape itself changed what my poems looked like, but moving to a place with different people changed writing for me because I want to write things that are in conversation with what they are doing, always, for it to be useful. The point at which you could communicate most, for me was always through poems. I feel like I hear you both more clearly through your poems than anything else. So there’s that aspect of it. That’s not landscape or place, but it is why be here.


Raphel

I think it’s part of landscape though, that broader sense of landscape.


KWH

That people are included in landscape?


Rahpel

I don’t think they could not be [laughs]. Especially this place in particular. I feel like so much of what defines Iowa City for me is these conversations, like you can feel the thoughts other people are having vibrating in the air


Walton

Yeah


Poppick

Yeah. I grew up in the suburbs of Chappaqua, New York, which is like 45 minutes north of the city and when I was deciding where I wanted to go to college, I knew that I needed to either go into the big city or go out into the middle of absolutely nowhere. I was tired of half-assing it in the suburbs. So I went to an extremely rural school, Kenyon. Which is just a town of 2,000 people on a hill in central Ohio. And that’s 2,000 people including students, faculty, and faculty’s families, and there are 1,600 students. So that was a big, I felt like it was sort of a flattening out of my reading life, or something. It became a lot easier to find a clarity of what voices were actually important to me. Then moving to Brooklyn, and going back and forth between these very isolated places and a city, I’m sort of always writing to the place where I just was from –this other place. So I try to find the city in a rural landscape, whereas when I was in Brooklyn, I was trying to find the quiet in the noise.