Rock island, illinois| january 31, 2012
“Nothing is trite along a river.”
—James Wright, “Honey”
The Quad Cities are roughly the size of St. Louis, but if you’re not from here or you don’t live here, you probably wouldn’t know it. You might even confuse the Quad Cities with the Twin Cities, or, far less likely, with the other Quad Cities nestled in northern Alabama.
And that’d be okay. It happens.
Located along the Mississippi River, roughly halfway between Des Moines and Chicago, and, likewise, between Minneapolis and St. Louis, the Quad Cities are, by name, Rock Island, IL; Moline, IL; Davenport, IA; Bettendorf, IA; and, according to some, East Moline, IL. It’s the only place in the country where the Mississippi River runs east to west, not north to south, save New Orleans. I like to think this bit of cartographical trivia suggests something about the area, about being lesser-known, but worth knowing about. The area is also one of just a few that are regularly referred to in the singular (“the Quad Cities is . . .”) and the plural (“the Quad Cities are . . .”), leaving subject-verb conjugation up to context, to the speaker, whatever sounds more natural to the ear.
In Four Quartets, perhaps one of the most moving and meditative books ever written, T.S. Eliot writes, “The river is a strong, brown god.” And he’s right. It is. Known, historically, for the Black Hawk War and the now-defunct Rock Island Line made even more famous by Johnny Cash, and, currently, for John Deere, the Rock Island Arsenal, the Figge Art Museum, black squirrels, the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival, and microbrewed beer, the Quad Cities is both limited and defined by its geography, specifically its proximity to the Mississippi River. The area has seen its share of more than a couple “100 year floods” over the past century. But buy a postcard of “the QC” and it’s sure to include at least one of the area’s five bridges, likely the iconic, five-arched Centennial Bridge, with each of its descending-in-size arches representing, respectively, one of the Quad Cities (East Moline, IL, here, getting its glory).
Given that the Quad Cities is halved by a river, and that this is where the first bridge to cross that river was built to accommodate the railroad just prior to the Civil War, it makes sense that bridges, here, are a part of everyday life—in all their suggestion and liminality—as much for transportation as for shaping the area’s skyline, and its identity.
I recently read that survival is largely determined by where you are on the map. I don’t know about survival, but the places we find ourselves in at any given moment do tend to influence how we live our lives—which fields we might readily wander through. In his essay “Theory of the Dérive,” French writer Guy Debord calls this psychogeography, “the study of the precise effects of geographical setting, consciously managed or not, acting directly on the mood and behaviour of the individual.”
But don’t let the lack of a famed Quad Cities literary scene fool you. Just as we’re a “city” made up of a handful of cities, much of the energy and community involving poetry is driven by its collaboration, or shoulder-rubbing, with other genres, often, though hardly always, in the form of literature meets music. I’m happy to dispatch that poetry here is alive and well, if not always readily visible to the unseeking eye. But, if you are willing to seek it out, the Quad Cities will ply you with a decent sense of literary gusto. The literary scene is subtle, but it’s vital. And when collaborations and events do occur, they’re memorable, shot-right-through with heart. Our proximity to Iowa City, IA, the only UNESCO-named City of Literature in the country, doesn’t hurt either.
You could hit up Rozz-Tox, a local multi-genre art venue, for poetry readings and/or slams on a regular basis. You could attend one of the big name River Readings at Augustana College. You could stopover at The Bucktown Revue for some live poetry coupled with bluegrass or barbershop. In the spring, you might attend Venus Envy at Bucktown Center for the Arts, an arts festival celebrating women artists via performances, demonstrations, and poetry readings. And, in the summer, you might even sign up for the Midwest Writing Center’s David R. Collins Writers’ Conference, having already entered one of their contests. You could listen to live or archived recordings of NPR’s Art Talks, a local radio show that asks its guests, poets included, to discuss their creative process. The local colleges and universities host occasional readings, too, so, alongside Augustana College, you might check out the schedules of St. Ambrose University, Black Hawk College, and Scott Community College. And, in the near future, you might even submit a chapbook manuscript to the newly formed Rock Town Press.
The poets in this issue are also students, teachers, editors, tutors, parents, drummers, photographers, activists, Scorpios. Some moved here for work, school, or love, while others have been here a long time. With the tendency toward DIY, grassroots projects of all artistic styles and drives these days, though, there’s no telling what the Quad Cities literary landscape will look like in the next few years.
I’ve heard the rumors, the rumbling underfoot. I have no reason not to be hopeful.
completed her MFA in poetry, along with a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a fellow. The author of eight chapbooks, including The Vanishing of Camille Claudel (Seven Kitchens Press, forthcoming) and Inland Sea, which received the 2009 Robin Becker Chapbook Prize, she is currently a Fellowship Instructor in English at Augustana College. She has led creative writing workshops for homeless individuals in transition, a prisoner, and students at the elementary, high school, and college level.