Yesterday evening the new sign reveal of James Alan McPherson Park made the new name of the park official. The weather was balmy and a big crowd showed up for the event, including Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague. He joined McPherson’s daughter, Rachel McPherson; Director of Parks and Recreation Juli Seydell Johnson, and Iowa City Council member, Pauline Taylor for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
This was immediately followed by a sing-along of a few bars of “You are My Sunshine,” led by Mayor Teague—who was in fine voice.
And even more music was provided by Cedar County Cobras. They were in a blues mood that evening—very popular with the crowd.
Prior to the ribbon-cutting, there were remarks from Mayor Teague, Rachel McPherson, and Juli Seydell Johnson. They shed personal stories highlighting McPherson’s gifts as a writer, intellectual, and humanist. They seemed to echo poet James Galvin’s perception of McPherson as not just the moral center of the Iowa Writers Workshop, but as the moral center of the universe.
You couldn’t miss the speakers’ impression of McPherson’s sense of humor, which tended to be ironic. Rachel shared an incredible anecdote about his tendency to write to far right-wing organizations (including the KKK) for more information about them, evidently giving them the impression that he was interested in becoming a member—to which they replied with enthusiastic offers to do so! This was not a one-time gag, but a running insider joke for years. Rachel is still getting mail from these groups. She also brought enough memorabilia to fill a table, and it included several “business cards” which deftly deflated the pomposity, posturing, racism, and outright villainy in society. I had to run to the web to get some of the jokes:
Guslar: traditional Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian name for an epic singer who performs long narrative tales (some detailing ancient battles and other historical events) while accompanying himself on a one-or-two stringed instrument called a gusle.
Ebonics: According to the Linguistics Society of America, this means literally “black speech” and refers to English spoken by African-Americans.
Enron was a company which perpetrated one of the largest accounting scandals and bankruptcy in recent history.
We welcomed a member of the Iowa City Police, who set up a table offering many useful free items including a generous helping of good will.
Another part of the presentation was a discussion between consultants and interested community members about future enhancements to the park, which include a plan for a memorial plaque in honor of McPherson.
Many quotes from McPherson were written in colorful chalk on the walkways around the park, including one that is also inscribed on his monument in Oakland Cemetery:
“I think that love must be the ability to suspend one’s intelligence for the sake of something. At the basis love must therefore live in the imagination.”