Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Schoonering Through Nebraska

Alliance by Any Other Name...

Kwame Dawes and Marianne Kunkel are embarking on a goodwill tour across Nebraska, from public library to public library to connect people with the journal and to celebrate the value of the literary arts in the states. Along the way, they are blogging about their journey. This is Marianne’s fourth blog entry after her visit to Alliance, Nebraska.

From driving distance the Nebraska Sandhills appear fuzzy, like the furry side of Velcro. The dunes ripple alongside us, yellow mounds of short, fine grasses that look like the crewcut on a blond boy's head. Imagine this landscape as a backdrop for Carhenge, a replica of England's Stonehenge formed by vintage cars and trucks, and you have Alliance, Nebraska, where grass and metal meet.

This isn't all that converges in Alliance, a town of about 9,000 people in the western edge of the state. Theirs is the first library we've seen on this tour that is housed within a larger complex; it shares walls with Western Nebraska Community College. (I can't get over the aesthetic splendor of public libraries. Alliance's library has high ceilings, a pointed roof, and skylights!)

The crowd at our reading was a study in contrasts: mostly high school students, encouraged to attend by their enthusiastic young teacher, and several retired schoolteachers longing to hear poetry read aloud as it once was in their classrooms. For this disparate audience, I read my poem about the 1950s sitcom "I Love Lucy" back-to-back with my poem about a summer fling, a hit with teenagers. I admit, I made assumptions about the kinds of poems people in different age groups enjoy, but I meant well.

Fleda Brown means well, too, in a poem I read for the crowd from Prairie Schooner's Summer 2012 issue. In "On a Day that Bombs," Brown attempts to reconcile her sympathy for Libyan civilians fleeing or dying from bombs dropped on them by U.S. drone aircraft with the myopic pleasure she derives from her comfortable American home. "I am writing this because I don't know what is appropriate in this world," she concludes in regards to local/global mindfulness.

An alliance is a pact or coalition between two or more parties. It's friendlier than a truce and implies a shared vision or goal. I find the word helpful as I try to understand the whole of Nebraska on this tour; it is a state that is rural in places and urban in others, iconic for its creative writers and also its university football coaches, dry and desert-like in the west and humid, so Alliance residents say, in the east. Where there's conflict between the small and big pictures that Fleda Brown describes, Alliance inspires me to see the two forces as cooperative.

PS: I want to extend a big thanks to Steve, Alliance Public Library's head librarian, for not only accommodating us at the event but also asking us earlier in the day how he could make us most comfortable. And thank you to Kwame for demonstrating how to read considerately, to answer questions generously, and to keep a hop in my step during this long tour. I'm learning so much!