The University of Iowa, according to U.S. News & World Report is No. 2 for writing in the latest rankings. It’s the only public university in the top 10, behind No. 1 Brown University. It’s out in front of Harvard, Cornell, Duke, and Princeton.
Last night’s webinar on Uncovering Hawkeye History, “Endless Innovation: An R1 Research Institution (1948-1997) was fascinating for us.
Dr. Bruce Gantz kicked off the first presentation about his work in cochlear implant surgery. Business picked up for him as far as these procedures in the last year and a half partly because of the pandemic. We were stunned to learn that the demand was driven because so many people were wearing masks—which prevented the deaf from lip-reading.
Kevin Washburn was next up and highlighted the great performance of the UI Law school’s stunning list of 4 student-led law review journals. They rank extremely high in the country, up there in the company of Yale and Harvard. I’m off on a tangent here, but Washburn’s status as a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation (which is based in Oklahoma; there are no Chickasaw tribal members in Iowa despite there being a Chickasaw County, by the way) reminded me of a guy who was a year behind my class in medical school. His name is Orrenzo Snyder and he’s a urologist in Oklahoma. Orrenzo and several other fellow students founded the American Indian Student Association (AISA) in 1989, which was later renamed the Native American Student Association (NASA). The University of Iowa Pow Wow was established in 1990. The 26th Annual Pow Wow is scheduled for April 2, 2022. Give it up for Orrenzo!
Anyway, Washburn mentioned one of the many stars in the UI Boyd Law school: Willard (Sandy) Boyd (for whom the college is named) who became one of the youngest University of Iowa presidents to take office and did so during a rowdy time of student unrest—in 1969. He raised a lot of money for the institution and was an advocate of human rights. He was appointed first chair of the University of Iowa’s Human Rights Committee.
You can also discover other facts, such as in 1839 the Iowa Territorial Supreme Court ruled that Ralph, a slave brought into free territory, must be released from slavery, in 1846; Iowa was admitted to the Union as a “Free State;” and in 1868 In Clark v. Board of Directors the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the Iowa Constitution guarantees the right to public education to all citizens. The plaintiff parent was Alexander Clark, Sr., who later graduated from the Iowa Law School (possibly the first African American to do so at UI). Justice Chester C. Cole wrote the opinion for the case.
University Archivist David McCartney also mentioned 1969 as a noteworthy year because that was the year of the Apollo 11 moon landing. There’s an Iowa connection to the Apollo 11 mission and that is State University of Iowa professor James A. van Allen in the Department of Physics, who warned of the danger to astronauts of the radiation belts encircling the earth (these were later renamed the Van Allen belts).
And I would add that African American women helped put astronauts on the moon in 1969.
Ed Wasserman expounded on his scientific work with pigeons and humans, comparing them on how they use their brains to solve problems. Are we better than pigeons? Maybe. Wasserman also gave many examples of how trial and error led to some surprising advances and innovations: the Ponseti method for treating clubfoot, the butterfly stroke in swimming, and Field of Dreams. His point is that the 3 Cs: consequence, context, and coincidence, play the larger role in many great achievements.
In other words, just keep pecking away at it.
We were overall delighted with yesterday’s presentation, University of Iowa Free Webinar: “Breaking Barriers: Arts, Athletics, and Medicine (1898-1947).” It’s one in a series of 4 virtual seminars with two more scheduled this month, which you can register for at this link.
February 15: Endless Innovation: An R1 Research Institution (1948–1997)
February 22: The Next Chapter: Blazing New Trails (1998–2047)
The moderator was university archivist and storyteller, David McCartney.
- Lan Samantha Chang (93MFA), Iowa Writers’ Workshop director and acclaimed author
- Quinn Early (87BA), Hawkeye football star and film producer
- Patricia Winokur (88R, 91F), professor of internal medicine–infectious diseases
Yesterday’s presentation was recorded and will be uploaded to The University of Iowa Center for Advancement YouTube site at a later date.
McCartney did an excellent job as moderator, although got stumped from a question from a viewer about who was the first African American faculty member in the College of Medicine. He’s still working on tracking that down. It wasn’t me. I’m not that old and I am not risen from the dead, as far as I can tell; but to be absolutely clear, you should ask my wife, Sena. I was able to google who was the first African American graduate of the University of Iowa law school: Alexander Clark, Jr. McCartney thinks he might have been the first University of Iowa alumnus, although he couldn’t confirm that.
On the other hand, I could have been the first African American consulting psychiatrist (maybe the only African American psychiatrist ever) in the Department of Psychiatry at UIHC—but I can’t confirm that. Maybe McCartney could work on that, too.
There are a few words about me in the department’s own history book, “Psychiatry at Iowa: The Shaping of a Discipline: A History of Service, Science, and Education by James Bass: Chapter 5, The New Path of George Winokur, 1971-1990:
“If in Iowa’s Department of Psychiatry there is an essential example of the consultation-liaison psychiatrist, it would be Dr. James Amos. A true in-the-trenches clinician and teacher, Amos’s potential was first spotted by George Winokur and then cultivated by Winokur’s successor, Bob Robinson. Robinson initially sought a research gene in Amos, but, as Amos would be the first to state, clinical work—not research—would be Amos’s true calling. With Russell Noyes, before Noyes’ retirement in 2002, Amos ran the UIHC psychiatry consultation service and then continued on, heroically serving an 811-bed hospital. In 2010 he would edit a book with Robinson entitled Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry.” (Bass, J. (2019). Psychiatry at Iowa: A History of Service, Science, and Education. Iowa City, Iowa, The University of Iowa Department of Psychiatry).”
And in Chapter 6 (Robert G. Robinson and the Widening of Basic Science, 1990-2011), Bass mentions my name in the context of being one of the first clinical track faculty (as distinguished from research track) in the department. In some ways, breaking ground as a clinical track faculty was probably harder than being the only African American faculty member in the department.
I had questions for Lan Samantha Chang and for Dr. Patricia Winokur (who co-staffed the UIHC Medical-Psychiatry Unit with me more years ago than I want to count.
I asked Dr. Chang what role did James Alan McPherson play in the Iowa Writers Workshop. She was finishing her presentation and had not mentioned him, so I thought I’d better bring him up. She had very warm memories of him being her teacher, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and a long-time faculty member at the Workshop.
She didn’t mention whether McPherson had ever been a director of the Workshop, though she went through the list of directors from 1897 to when she assumed leadership in 2006. You can read this on the Workshop’s History web page. I have so far read two sources (with Wikipedia repeating the Ploughshares article item) on the web indicating McPherson had been acting director between 2005-2007 after the death of Frank Conroy. One source for this was on Black Past published in 2016 shortly after his death, and the other was a Ploughshares article published in 2008. I sent an email request for clarification to the organizers of the zoom webinar to pass along to Lan Samantha Chang.
I asked Dr. Winokur about George Winokur’s contribution to the science of psychiatric medicine. Dr. George Winokur was her father and he was the Chair of the UIHC Psychiatry Department while I was there. She mentioned his focus on research in schizophrenia and other accomplishments. I’ll quote the last paragraph from Bass’s history on the George Winokur era:
“Winokur, in terms of research, was a prototype of the new empirical psychiatrist. Though his own research was primarily in the clinical realm, he was guided by the new neurobiological paradigm (perhaps in an overbalanced way) that was solidifying psychiatry with comparative quickness. New techniques in imaging and revelations of the possibilities in genetic study and neuropsychopharmacology lay ahead. George Winokur had helped the University of Iowa’s Department of Psychiatry—and American psychiatry as a whole—turn a corner away from subjectivity and irregularity of Freudian-based therapies. And once that corner had been turned there was no going back.”
George Winokur was the department chair at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics from 1971 to 1990 and had a unique and memorable style. George also had a rough sense of humor. He had a rolling, gravelly laugh. He had strict guidelines for how residents should behave, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. They were written in the form of 10 commandments. Who knows, maybe there are stone tablets somewhere:
Winokur’s 10 Commandments
- Thou shalt not sleep with any UI Psychiatry Hospital patient unless it be thy spouse.
- Thou shalt not accept recompense for patient care in this center outside thy salary.
- Thou shalt be on time for conferences and meetings.
- Thou shalt act toward the staff attending with courtesy.
- Thou shalt write progress notes even if no progress has been made.
- Thou shalt be prompt and on time with thy letters, admissions and discharge notes.
- Thou shalt not moonlight without permission under threat of excommunication.
- Data is thy God. No graven images will be accepted in its place.
- Thou shalt speak thy mind.
- Thou shalt comport thyself with modesty, not omniscience.
Quinn Early has a lot of energy and puts it to good use. His documentary of the sacrifices of African American sports pioneers, including “On the Shoulders of Giants” (Frank Kinney Holbrook) is impressive.
There was a good discussion of the importance of the book “Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa during the Long Civil Rights Era”, edited by former UI faculty, Lena and Michael Hill.
Sena and I thought yesterday’s presentation was excellent. We plan to attend the two upcoming webinars as well. We encourage others to join.
We don’t usually make trips to Oakland Cemetery (or any cemetery for that matter), but today we made an exception to find the grave of James Alan McPherson, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and longtime Iowa Writers’ Workshop faculty who died in 2016 and for whom an Iowa City park was renamed a month ago.
We never met McPherson, although we are reading a couple of his books (Elbow Room, the Pulitzer Park winning work, and Hue and Cry) and just visited the James Alan McPherson Park on Monday this week.
This trip brought back happy memories right away. It’s not the first time we’ve been to Oakland Cemetery. In 2015 and 2016 we took the same route, parking at Happy Hollow Park on Brown Street and walking east to find the Black Angel. The main reason for going to Happy Hollow Park back then was not so much to see the Black Angel, but for two Psychiatry Department Faculty vs Resident Matball games at Happy Hollow Park. Matball is an imaginative combination of kickball and baseball using large mats for bases and a kickball for pitching, which the hitter actually kicks and runs the bases.
I was on faculty but didn’t play, which I thought would help them win. It was very hot both years. Faculty lost both years. There was another match in 2017 which I didn’t attend, and which I think faculty also lost.
But it was great fun. I don’t remember who put the 2015 trophy won by the residents in a bowl of red (possibly strawberry, I didn’t eat any) Jell-O. That took imagination. It was a stroke of genius, but was not repeated after the following two losses. There have been no Matball games since then.
Anyway, we visited the Black Angel. I think I left some loose change at the foot of the sculpture, which is traditional I think, for good luck. The Black Angel has a very complicated story, which is in many cases, fueled by superhuman imagination. The stories get more complicated every year and the legends have been developing since the 9-foot statue with 4-foot pedestal was created in 1912.
Actually, the Black Angel is often used as a point of reference for the rest of the cemetery. That’s how we used it today to find McPherson’s grave, which is said to be in a place called the poets’ corner where many other artists, including Writers’ Workshop faculty, are buried.
The easiest way to find the Black Angel is probably to approach the cemetery from the west and head east to the intersection of Brown and Governor Streets, where there’s a big sign for Oakland Cemetery. There’s a map next to the cemetery office. We could not find any place marked “poets’ corner.” But the Black Angel is clearly marked.
You’ll notice you can drive through the cemetery, but the paved road is about the width of a car. It’s actually more like a service road, just right for riding mowers, but a little narrow for cars. There is no parking lot we could find, which is why we parked at Happy Hollow Park.
As you reach the Black Angel, you’ll notice one of her wings is raised at a right angle from her body. It points roughly North. You need to go in the opposite direction to find poets’ corner. As you pass the Black Angel, take the second path to the right and simply follow it around, moving south past the University of Iowa Deeded Body Program monument to a section marked with a narrow post labeled “Oak Green.” That’s where you’ll find McPherson’s headstone.
The headstone is easy to pick out; it’s an imaginative work of art. The black rectangular stone is decorated with clever sculptures including his signature car cap, two roses, and even a cigarette in an ashtray. He was a smoker. I don’t know what the characters on the pedestal mean.
On the back of the stone are many carved envelopes indicating McPherson’s mail correspondence with many loving friends and family—and beyond. There is a sense of humor and imagination here too. One of the envelopes is from “Publisher’s Clearinghouse” and the recipient section says “ATTENTION: You may have already won $1,000,000!” I can just picture Ed McMahon! Another is from “Fabian’s Seafood Truck” to “Our Loyal Customer.” I didn’t realize it while we were there, but when we got home, it occurred to me that as we were driving home from James Alan McPherson Park, we saw a big refrigerated truck where seafood was being sold; it was next to the Dairy Queen on Riverside Street. I searched Fabian Seafood on the web and found a picture that exactly matched what we saw.
Around the edge of the headstone was an inscription that to read in its entirety you have to walk all the way around the monument because the words are carved in the front, sides and back:
“I think love must be the ability to suspend one’s intelligence for the sake of something. At the basis of love therefore must live imagination.” This is a quote from McPherson. He also wrote in his essay “Pursuit of the Pneuma” about “an ancient bit of spiritual wisdom” which denies that God rested on the seventh day after creating all existence. Instead, God created imagination and gave this gift to his human creations, enabling us to wield an integrative kind of power—which is what love can do.
Imagination therefore lives in Oakland Cemetery.
I had so much fun with the giant chicken post on January 25, 2020 that I thought it would be nice to revisit the subject, only this time take a butt-freezing tour of the entire Iowa River Landing (IRL) Sculpture Walk.
We took the walk Tuesday, January 28, 2020. The weather was typical for Iowa in January. The temperature was in the teens and there were brief flurries. My wife, Sena, and I dressed warm and took a meandering journey through the Sculpture Walk, guided by a small map.
It was a little more challenging because snow and ice covered up many of the plaques identifying the works (and parts of the sculptures as well) although this lent even more visual interest to them. They’re three dimensional objects anyway and you really have to walk around them to fully appreciate their complexity. You have to watch out for yellow snow.
What made this adventure even more special was the Iowa Writers’ Library in the lobby of the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. It’s maintained by the Coralville Public Library. One of the issues I had was being unfamiliar with the text of the poems and other literary works (all were connected with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop) referenced by the artists. The library was cozy, had a fireplace warming the softly lit room lined by bookshelves and a couple of ladders on wheels to help you reach the books higher up.
I have always felt comforted in libraries, ever since I was a little boy. Every day I got the chance, I would walk to my hometown library (which was about a mile trip), browse the stacks for hours, then tote home piles of books in both arms.
The hotel library had most of the books pertinent to the literary references cited by the artists for their sculptures. I even found David B. Axelrod’s book, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken. It turns out that the title of Axelrod’s poem is “The Man Who Fell in Love with His Chicken.” There, I’ve said enough already about that chicken.
Of course, I couldn’t take the time to find and read every book; we would not have had time to freeze our butts off touring the sculptures.
I didn’t wear my heavy winter boots and had to crunch through the crusty snow nearly up to my ankles to reach certain sculptures. Sena was dressed better for the weather but we both slipped around on the ice and I began to think more and more about things like broken hips.
But we soldiered on because it was necessary to walk completely around the Made of Money sculpture by Aaron Wilson in order to see the message printed, “HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?” It’s funny because that’s what I typically ask patients in the general hospital when I sit down on my little camp stool after I introduce myself to them as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist.
The sculpture To Dorothy, by artist James Anthony Bearden, was in a difficult spot and initially we thought we’d have to either rappel down from the roof of the building it was in front of or climb up the big retaining walls to get a good look at it. We found a way out to it and ignored passersby who gawked at us. They needed to admire us for how unique we are (not how eccentric and possibly a danger to ourselves and others), which is what I think Iowa Poet Laureate Marvin Bell was getting at in his poem of the same title as Bearden’s sculpture.
The sculpture, A Thousand Acres, by artist V. Skip Willits was another piece you really have to walk around to fully appreciate, although you generally have to do that with any sculpture. The book of the same title by Jane Smiley is based on Shakespeare’s King Lear—which I have also never read—but which I got an earful about in my undergraduate days from a fellow student who thought he knew everything there was to know about King Lear. He was garrulous in the extreme and bested me in debating class mainly because he never let me open my mouth.
The sculpture by artist Victoria Ann Reed, called Convergence, was very intriguing and looked more like a human figure who had been through a wormhole than a memory.
The Tipping Point, by artist Sarah Deppe, was a convincing image of persons with holes in their heads (several holes in fact). Bureaucrats come to mind.
We nearly dismissed the sculpture called After Trillium by artist Anthony Castronovo as a broken lamppost with dysfunctional solar panels, only partly because snow and ice covered the panel describing it. On the other hand, the top part does resemble a flower called a Trillium, not to be confused with Trillian, a character in the book by Douglas Adams, The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m glad I could clear that up for you.
The Prairie Breeze Bench by artist Bounnak Thammavong is a sculpture you could actually sit on and watch the Bald Eagles. However, it’s made of steel and the seat was covered by snow. After you wipe away the Bald Eagle droppings, you can read the poem by James Hearst, “Landscape Iowa.” You can also hear it set to music and performed by Scott Cawelti, a former University of Northern Iowa educator who taught film, writing, and literature courses. He also edited The Complete Poetry of James Hearst (University of Iowa Press, 2001).
The Alidade sculpture by Dan Perry was the one Sena and I both really liked. I know Perry says the alidade was used by astronomers but I remember it as being a part of an instrument used by land surveyors, also for measuring distance and angles in topographical surveys. I used to work for consulting engineers as a surveyor’s assistance and draftsman many years ago. Perry links it to the poem entitled “1,2,3” from James Galvin’s book of poems, X: Poems. I confess I don’t see the connection yet. The poem for the most part reminds me of spelunking although Galvin describes a hole that he and a friend rappel into as being a planet. Much of the rest seems to be about something very painful. I’m sorry I can’t do better, but that’s why he’s a poet and I’m not.
Next, we encountered Bounnak Thammavong’s second sculpture, a very recognizable fish, a “lowly river carp,” entitled From the River. It’s linked to the poem “Where Water Comes Together with Other Water” by Raymond Carver. When I was a boy, I used to fish for bullhead in my hometown river. I sometimes caught carp and thought that was the poorer catch. It didn’t matter. I always threw both back into the river. My mom would not clean fish and neither would I.
Finally, by a pretty circuitous route, we saw the last sculpture, Gilead, by artist Kristin Garnant. The snow plow had piled up a lot of snow around it. I probably won’t read Gilead, the epistolary novel by Marilynne Robinson.
In fact, I probably won’t read a lot of the literature connected with the sculptures we saw. I did read Margaret Walker’s poem “For My people.” Sorry, Jubilee is way too much for me. She was the first African-American woman to be accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, of course depending on which story you believe about when the program formally began (Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa during the Long Civil Rights Era, in Chapter Four: Obscured Traditions: Blacks at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1940-1965, by Michael D. Hill, University of Iowa Press, 2016).
In some ways, I identify way with her, one of the reasons being obvious and skin-deep. The other is that she taught school at Jackson State, a historically black college in Jackson, Mississippi.
I wonder if the IRL Sculpture Walk could include another one for her, just to make it an even dozen?
I spent my Freshman and Sophomore college years at a historically black college. It was then called Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas. That was back in the mid-1970s. I had grown up in largely white neighborhoods and gone to predominantly white schools prior to going to H-TC. It was a culture shock and that’s probably about all I’ll say about it for now, since this post is way too long.
I can say one other thing about H-TC. I submitted a poem for the college’s annual poetry contest. Winners would have their work published in the school’s small anthology called Habari Gani (Swahili for What’s Going On?). Mine didn’t make it but years later I scoured the web looking for a way to get a copy of Habari Gani, finally succeeding only a few years ago after tracking a copy of the Spring 1975 volume down at the H-TU library. I like the short introductory poem:
“Let your hum be the dream
Of an understanding universe…
Let your hum be a perfect
Utopia of Love”
Last week, we were out at the Iowa River Landing (IRL) and saw a giant chicken. It’s actually a metal sculpture entitled Iowa Blue: The Urbane Chicken, 2013, one of 11 such works (all installed in 2013) of art making up the Iowa River Landing Sculpture Walk, located in the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.
All of them are linked to literary works by authors associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. The artist is Amber O’Harrow’s and her statement about the chicken is:
“I have created a sculpture of the noble chicken, as described in the poem by David B. Axelrod. The Iowa Blue Chicken is the only breed of chicken that was created in the state of Iowa and bred to survive Iowa’s harsh winters and its hot summers.”
The literary reference is to David B. Axelrod’s poem, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken.
The chicken is made from cast aluminum and is taller than I am.
This set me off on an internet journey to find out more about the Iowa Blue chicken breed and Axelrod’s poem. It took a while, because there’s a lot to know.
If you’re a poultry enthusiast and an Iowan, then you know the story about the Iowa Blue Chicken Club (IBCC), not to be confused with the sandwich of the same name which doesn’t yet exist but should. The IBCC is an organization dedicated to making sure that the public at large realizes that the sculpture’s name is Betsy and that there is a big effort to get the breed recognized officially by the American Poultry Association (APA). So far, the APA has deferred, but the IBCC is not giving up.
The story of the origin of the Iowa Blue is somewhat apocryphal in that the breed was said to arise from the union of a White Leghorn (or Red depending on what you’ve been drinking) and a pheasant, which serves to explain the chestnut to striped colors of the feathers and certain behaviors of the chicks, which includes antics like crouching, fast fleeing, and something called “popping” which apparently means a kind of hopping which resembles popcorn popping. I gather this is typical for pheasant chicks.
Iowa Blue roosters will fight hawks, even slapping them with their wings and crowing challenges like “Have some of that!” or “You got something on your face, dude!” They’ll fight just about any critter: opossums, raccoons, snakes, rats, cats, congressmen.
Iowa Blue chickens are bred to thrive in Iowa’s harsh winters and oppressive summers. When the barnyard gets snowed in, they just grab little ergonomic shovels and scoop their way out—they just flip the bird at snow blowers.
Visit the IBCC web site to see photos of these beautiful birds.
Turning to Axelrod’s poem, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken, the web search got a little complicated. For the longest time, I couldn’t find it. All I wanted to do was read it. Heck, you can look up Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken in half a second at the Poetry Foundation web site.
I finally stumbled on it at a web site (the poetrydoctor) the owner of which I eventually found out was Axelrod himself! I found the chicken poem but the title was The Man Who Fell in Love with His Chicken. Now, I realize that even he says there are typos in the extremely long list of his works which you cannot search by the way, even though the author says there is a search box. The book of his poetry of the same name is 16 pages long and the title is The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken, which you can order through Amazon.
Interestingly, one publisher, Cross-Cultural Communications, says the book is “humorous poetry playing on poultry puns.”
This makes me wonder about O’Harrow’s description above including the phrase “…the noble chicken as described in the poem by David B. Axelrod.”
I can’t copy the poem here because that would be copyright violation (despite Axelrod’s making it available on his website—I guess he can do anything he wants with his own work). On the other hand, I think I can say that the poem does, in fact, contain several chicken puns and the man eventually does something to the chicken which is something less than noble and could involve lettuce, tomato, and possibly secret sauce.
The poem is dedicated to someone named Russell Edson, who I learned was called the “grandfather of the prose poem in America.” Edson wrote a few whimsical poems which could have been very much like Axelrod’s poem about the love affair with a chicken. One of them, Let Us Consider, was about a “farmer who makes his straw hat his sweetheart” and “an old woman who makes a floor lamp her son.” See the entry about him at the web site Poetry Foundation—where Axelrod entries can’t be found.
Well, that was my journey through the web about the Iowa Blue chicken sculpture. I’m next to clueless about chickens, unless their roasted, barbecued, fried, or what have you and I’m a terrible poet, as you can see from my video, Pseudobulbar Affect Top Ten—which somehow gets more views than almost anything else on my YouTube Channel.