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Sentence in Poetry and Prose” was the catchy title faculty member Juliet Patterson chose for the week session I just completed at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The festival, held on the University of Iowa‘s campus in Iowa City, is enjoying its twenty-sixth year.

Starting in 2001, I’ve attended the festival seven times and taken thirteen courses. It should be clear that I love it, everything about it: the four-hour drive from my skyscraper life through corn fields to a small city sloping downhill off I-80; the impressive Pentacrest (former capitol building of Iowa, flanked by four majestic rectangular buildings); the L-shaped, tree-shaded, pedestrian mall featuring boutiques, bars, bookstores, and restaurants; plus the variety of courses, the excellence of faculty, and the diversity of classmates.

The first years I took courses on writing memoir. Then I branched out into classes on writing wild, humor, and essays, followed by more specific subjects as writing the scene, showing not telling, and finding my voice.

So, this year was time for getting down to basics-the sentence. And how better to do that than spending time with a poet/teacher and poetry students. They know words, the importance of use and placement of nouns and verbs, dependent and independent clauses, syntactical devices. And much more.

Juliet started us at the beginning–diagramming sentences to make us aware of what part of the sentence each word plays and progressed through inspiring examples of sentence writing from poets like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop and prose writers Tim O’Brien and Barbara Kingsolver.

And, at a writing festival, what do you think you’d find in a Beadology shop? If you can get past all the colorful beads, you’ll find festival students from all classes giving a three-minute reading on Open Mic night. I was one who got stuck in the shop and bought a silk pink and black long scarf from Karen Kubby, featured below in a slide show.

At the reading, I presented the ostomy story from my memoir Caring Lessons. Afterwards, one older man said, “Wow…I had no idea. My mom was a nurse and I still had no real idea of what nurses do.”

Exactly. That’s why we nurses have to write.

If I’ve made your fingers long for a pen or keyboard, you must plan to go to Iowa yourself. To give you an inside look at what you could experience there, travel along with me on this pictorial representation that I’ll call, simply, Iowa.  No words, just images. See what feelings bubble up.

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Thanks to Juliet (below, striped tank, black shoulder bag) and classmates (one is missing), our group jelled well and were appreciative and supportive of each others’ work.

After class on our final night, a few of us lingered. “Does anyone want to do dinner?” Juliet asked. It clearly was hard to part. We went to Masala for Indian food. We sat around an old fashioned oak table, extended with two leaves to accommodate our group, making it feel much like a family dinner.

As the food was starting to come, Juliet asked the straw-hatted man above if he would say grace. He agreed, and we spontaneously formed a circle with our hands. He intoned his opening words with a palpable heartfelt resonance, “God of all peoples…”

So what’s love got to do with it? I already know. What do you think?

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