Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Schoonering Through Nebraska

Seventh/Eighth Stops: Neligh and Battle Creek

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 sixth blog entry in the series after visiting Neligh and Battle Creek, Nebraska.

We ran into light snow on the drive from Lincoln to Neligh, Nebraska, a town of about 1,500 people. Sadly, it didn’t follow us all the way to Neligh Public Library, but other sights proved just as interesting: hints of green on a drought-stricken landscape and the red clay color of the highway that made us wonder, what makes the road that color?

It was a day of wondering, of being stumped even. We read at Neligh’s library to a crowd of serious writers, readers, and apparent Prairie Schooner trivia buffs. Marie Krohn, a Neligh resident who wrote an impressive biography of Louise Pound, shared with Kwame her knowledge of “Sigma Ubsilon,” a student organization from which the journal emerged, and for a second I worried we didn’t know the journal’s full story (Kwame did—whew!).

Tammy, a woman sporting a Nebraska Summer Writers Conference T-shirt and bag, asked specific questions about our submission policy—How do we select readers? How realistic is our estimated 3- to 4-month response time?—and I struggled to keep up. Another woman asked Kwame to describe all previous editors of the journal.

We sold more subscriptions at Neligh than anywhere else so far, which tells me those in attendance weren’t suspicious customers but longtime believers in the journal, there to hear two new stewards of Prairie Schooner convince them to renew their lapsed subscriptions. In Neligh I remarked that the journal was much, much older than me; I left the town feeling slightly overwhelmed by this. (I also left with a handful of much-needed snacks, thanks to Neligh librarian Jennifer Norton.)

Equally overwhelming was my introduction to Battle Creek: its welcoming librarian, Kathy Bretschneider, explained that the town was named after a battle that almost took place between settlers and the Pawnee. The Pawnee left without fighting, a wrinkle in the “bad guy/good guy” narrative that causes townspeople today to scratch their heads.

I appreciated one woman’s request that Kwame read a poem that rhymed. He obliged with a haunting sonnet featuring subtle rhymes, but I sensed what she wanted was rollicking verse. Her definition of poetry—rhymed meter, essentially—dates back to poetry from centuries ago. I am inspired to be more mindful of the traditions of this country, of poetry, of Prairie Schooner; in the Fall 1983 issue of the journal, the season and year I was born, is the work of a young Ted Kooser and Linda Hogan and a now-deceased Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. I read it looking for trivia, both delights and battle scars.