By Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO, Business Publications Corp.
More than 1,000 Iowans from across the state gathered in Des Moines April 6-8 for three days of poetry readings and workshops at a new event called Poetry Palooza. I talked to Diane Glass, one of the co-organizers along with Pat Boddy, about this event, how poetry and writing can help women develop confidence and find their own voices, and her own journey as an executive, writer and teacher.
Glass’ career started in journalism, including many years as vice president of marketing at the Des Moines Register. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, she co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden retreats and publications, and went on to publish a memoir called “This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience.” The Poetry Palooza is just one example of how she continues to be a champion and advocate for women’s creative and spiritual development.
How did Poetry Palooza come about?
Poetry Palooza was a dream of several women in Des Moines who remembered the Des Moines National Poetry Festival that ended in 2005 due to lack of funding. It ran for 15 successful years. Our organization, Poetry &, started as a desire to take poetry out into the community, sometimes in unexpected ways.
What are you most proud of about the Poetry Palooza, especially as it relates to our Fearless readers?
I am most proud about introducing to the larger Des Moines community regional and Iowa poets with national standing. That included several outstanding women poets: Christine Stewart-Nunez, former poet laureate of South Dakota; Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, former poet laureate of Kansas; Deb Marquart, our own Iowa poet laureate; and Akwi Nji, a performance poet who speaks to women, daughters, mothers, people of color and all of us. We also welcomed Matt Mason, state poet of Nebraska, and Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey. I’m also especially proud of the mix of urban and rural attendees. Students came from across the state – including the Meskwaki Settlement, Atlantic, Baxter and other school districts.
Many people remember poetry from high school as being complicated, boring or hard to understand. Why the focus on poetry now?
People may recall the poetry of their youth with mixed emotions. Memorizing poems with structures and rhyme, not relatable to their own experience. Today’s poetry is free form, edgy, reflective of modern issues and personal dilemmas. Poetry is sometimes done as a performance. Slam poetry exudes emotion, expressing angst about either personal or world issues.
Poetry Palooza aims to encourage all people to recognize they are creators, whether through words, art, music or their everyday actions. We think writing is for others; we think I don’t have anything to say or I am not good enough. Even successful writers feel that way as they stare at a blank page. Will I still find my voice? The difference between writers and the rest of us is that they write anyway. I hope the Palooza inspired attendees to express themselves.
You had some phenomenal women on the organizing committee, plus women poets who read and conducted workshops. Tell us about them.
Eleven women joined this effort as volunteers to create a larger-scale poetry festival. Local leader Pat Boddy was co-organizer of the effort. Judy Conlin served on the board of the Des Moines National Poetry Festival and raised money for us. Trudy Hurd jumped on early with a significant gift, as did Humanities Iowa and Dr. Richard Deming’s Mercy One Cancer Center and Above & Beyond Cancer. Other committee members include Jackie Devine, Jan Kaiser, Susan Bridgford Koch, Leah Waughtal-Magiera, Kelsey Bigelow, Dawn Terpstra, Dory Briles, Paula Hutton-McKinley. Siobhan Spain and Mainframe Studios went all out for us, providing their beautiful space, involving their artists in poetry/art experiences, and elevating poetry. Franklin Jr. High offered their auditorium for the slam competition.The Iowa Poetry Association was behind us as well.
Who are some women poets that you love – from Iowa and beyond?
Many people love Mary Oliver but so many other wonderful women poets are out there to discover. I like Ada Limon, our current U.S. poet laureate. In Iowa, some of our phenomenal women poets include Deb Marquart, Akwi Nji, Kelli Lage, Jennifer L. Knox, Leah Huizar, Michaela Mullin, Staci Harper Bennett, Dawn Terpstra, Blueberry Morningsnow, Shannon Vesely, Kelsey Bigelow, Mary Swander, Shelly Reed Thieman, Pat Underwood, Marilyn Baszcynski, Donika Kelly, Lisa K. Roberts, Laura Johnson.
What role does poetry play in helping women develop their voices or confidence?
I encourage women to write to gain self-understanding and confidence. When I put words down on a paper, those words invite me to say more. To go deeper. To be brave. No one needs to read these early drafts. They are for you only, to discover what you yearn to say. Most of us gravitate to writing about childhood and how it shaped us. We unravel difficult emotions. We tackle our disappointments and our grievances. We express gratitude, our bewilderment. We explore our dreams. In doing so, we discover wisdom, insight, humor and compassion. Writing is not about getting even or making your case, it’s about offering to the world what you have learned by living on this planet.
Your background was in journalism and as an executive at the Des Moines Register, but you pivoted that career to write, do workshops and focus more on spirituality. Why did that happen, and how did that change transform you?
My career included teaching high school English and journalism, working in politics, and serving as VP of marketing at the Des Moines Register. I left the Register when I developed breast cancer in 1999 and spent two years writing, reading and what I call “wandering around.” That led to starting a program for women in transition called Tending Your Inner Garden. I went back to school to study spiritual direction and worked with individuals and groups for 12 years. Yet something remained incomplete. I discovered that while I enjoyed helping others write and explore their spirituality, my own voice was still buried.
A writing group helped me tell the story of growing up with spina bifida, which led to the memoir “This Need to Dance.” A yearlong program with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg called “Right Livelihood” unearthed a penchant for poetry. That resulted in a book of poetry called “The Heart Hungers for Wildness.” I still write poetry and am part of a group that meets monthly to read and comment on one another’s work. Group or individual support gives me strength and accountability. I recommend it.
How have you overcome fear or obstacles in your career?
My various career transitions came about by moving ahead despite fear. Curiosity befriended me. What would it be like to …? The desire for change and for adventure exceeds my fear of failure. Don’t worry about outcomes, I tell myself. You can’t control the future, but you can shape it to your liking. I have learned not to value so highly “being good at it.” You can’t grow if you only do what you know how to do. A blank page and a pen represent an even playing field. Anyone can fill it. A blank page and a pen resemble our lives. What do we want that page to look like? What do we desire to leave behind?
What advice do you have for women trying to gain confidence as leaders?
Leadership arises out of service. First we serve, we create. Then we earn a place in the field we’ve chosen, a seat at the table. Leadership that is an end in itself rarely is sustainable. Many of the poets I’ve met while organizing Poetry Palooza have written since high school. I admire that. I am new to poetry and never envisioned being a leader. Whatever leadership I offer now is in creating an audience for these marvelous individuals. Iowa is rich in poetry and poets. I am passionate about widening their exposure.
Will Poetry Palooza make an appearance next year?
We will do Poetry Palooza again next year. It may look different. As organizers we need time to reflect on this event. In the meantime the organization we created, Poetry &, will look for opportunities to take poetry to your street corner, business, event, homes. On May 19 from 1 to 3 p.m., Poetry & will host Harken to Verse at the Harkin Institute on the Drake campus. Please stop by.
For more information or to help with Poetry Palooza next year, feel free to contact Diane Glass at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pat Boddy at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include Pat Boddy’s role in the event.