Jim Coppoc on Ames, Iowa
I imagine a lot of Iowans get their literary fix from a tiny basket in their bathroom – crumbling reading material that they’ve read a million times over. They can practically recite it themselves, no need to go to a public reading. In Ames, Iowa, writers had to improvise. Jim Coppoc describes Ames like it’s a spotless bathroom. It seems typical, ordinary, boring… until you open the medicine cabinet.
. . .
Hi. My name is Jim. I’m a single dad and adjunct teacher in Ames, Iowa, a small town in a flyover state, surrounded by cornfields and interstates and people who caucused for Ted Cruz. Yet somehow, my life looks like this:
With this small town as my home base, I have managed to accomplish more and better things in the literary world than I had ever thought possible. But as much as I’d like to take credit for this amazing circumstance I find myself in, the truth is that nobody—not even a snowflake like me—is a scene unto himself. In a place like Ames, anyone with a little literary gumption and the will to put some love into the local literary community has all the resources they need to grow their voice and find an audience and build a body of work that will take them as far as they’re willing to push it.
Take, for example, this guy:
This is my friend, Jay Parry. A few years back, our local poetry slam was dying. The rest of the scene was still strong, but spoken word had been neglected, and the same events that had once packed local venues to standing room only now struggled just to get more audience members than poets.
Jay saw an opportunity. He wanted to make something good happen. So he decided to step in, step up, and do something about the problem.
In many other scenes I’ve been part of, someone like Jay would be swimming upstream. Apathy and inertia would force him to start from scratch, and build a new slam on his own, with a high risk of failure. But Ames has its own way of doing things.
Because Jay was a musician, he went to local music venue DG’s Taphouse, and asked for some stage time. The manager, Nate Logsdon, immediately plugged him into a monthly Tuesday night slot. Jay then started a Facebook group and reached out to a few friends, who in turn reached out to a few more. Within a very short time, we were all part of a loosely organized writers’ cooperative called Ames Poetry Revival. Local musicians got excited about the project, and volunteered to play after each slam. Local artists got excited, and began donating prizes every month. Within just a few months, the slam was back to audiences of up to 200 poetry-loving people. More than half a decade later, and the show that Jay built is still going strong, and still the first Tuesday of every month.
But Jay’s story is not the only story like this. Take Brett Brinkmeyer, who began his own radio show called “Firsthand Poetry” on local station KHOI, and found immediate support and a large pool of radio-ready talent to draw from. Or Anasia Sturdivant, who became involved in Ames Poetry Revival, secured sponsorship of the Ames Public Library and ACCESS assault care center, and launched a monthly all-ages slam for those who couldn’t be part of the bar scene. Take local storyteller Reid Miller, currently building support for Story Up!, a local story slam, or the Iowa Music Store open mic, encouraging poets and songwriters alike to bare their souls every Sunday night. Take the annual Maximum Ames Music Festival, which gives spoken word a prime slot in their lineup every year, or the Ames Community Arts Council, which welcomes literary artists into their fold along with the visual and performing arts. Take the Third Stanza writers group, or the Bluestem concert series, or any of the many regular events the University puts on, or….
Well, you get the point. Take any number of separate events, or better yet take them all together. What you’ll see is that there is more than just literary corn in small town Iowa. There are venues and opportunities and connections and collaborations and community that it is hard to find anywhere else. Real support. A wealth of big dreams and diverse voices finding their home in this cradle of good old-fashioned small town solidarity.
And in the end, I guess that’s what literature is about. Humans connecting with humans, sharing each others’ stories, building a culture where those stories can be held and valued.
And in true small town fashion, you are all invited to come join in anytime you’re in the neighborhood. ☺