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Top poet to visit local library

Callender to host Laureate Swander

October 25, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

CALLENDER - It's not always easy for a small-town library to bring in big-time cultural activities. But this weekend, the Callender Heritage Library will host the poet laureate of Iowa, Mary Swander.

Karan Benton will give a one-person performance of Swander's poetic narrative "Driving the Body Back" at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"It's a fictionalized account of the Poet Laureate Mary Swander, her experience learning about her family's history," Benton said. "She had to drive her mother's body back to be buried, and her godmother went with her along the way and told stories of how different members of her family lived and died."

"The story really goes through three generations of family - bootleggers, pioneers," she said. "It's a very colorful family history."

The book came out in 1984 and won "all kinds of acclaim," Benton said.

Benton brings the account to life by playing different members of the family. A box of photographs is her only prop.

Benton is taking the show on a tour of small Iowa libraries that wouldn't normally get this kind of event.

"I asked through the Library Association if there would be small town libraries that would like to have this presentation. And within three days 14 libraries responded," she said.

Callender librarian Tina Twito explained why this was an important opportunity.

"I think one thing that a library should be is a cultural center, and that's hard for a small library to provide," Twito said.

"About a year ago we were approached to do the project. I was interested in that."

Benton said, "I got five libraries to help me write a grant to the Puffin Foundation, which is a national arts foundation, very competitive."

The Foundation gave part of the funds needed to perform in those five libraries. Humanities Iowa, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Arts, gave funding so that Swander could appear in person at the events.

Locally, the Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust also came forward with a contribution.

"What they're interested in is bringing things that wouldn't normally come to rural communities to rural communities," Twito said of the three organizations.

Previously, the show toured in large midwestern cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis and Minneapolis, Benton said.

"We've done some very nice theaters. We've done some things through arts councils in towns and libraries, like in Waukee. We've appeared at Iowa State University," she said. "We've gotten some excellent reviews from Kansas City, Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Paul. So it's been well-received.

"Since Mary Swander is the poet laureate of Iowa, I thought these small towns need just as much chance to get to know her and know her work as very large towns."

Swander was appointed poet laureate in 2009 by Iowa Gov. Chet Culver. The title means she is at "the top of her craft," said Twito.

"Iowa is a big place for poetry. Some of the universities have very strong literary programs," Twito said. "I think being the poet laureate in Iowa is probably something special because we have such a strong literary program,"



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