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Writers’ Workshop alums return for poetry reading

BY JOSIE JONES | APRIL 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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Sandra Doller refers to herself as a wanderer. The poet hasn’t lived any place longer than three years since she was 17 — and that place was Iowa City. She attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 2001 to 2003.

“Iowa City really was a first home for me in a lot of ways,” the now 35-year-old said. “I felt welcome here, surrounded by some crazy wonderful writers in this wacky prairie oasis.”

The UI alum will read at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., from her second book, Chora, which was released in March. She will be accompanied by husband and fellow poet Ben Doller, who will read from his collections Dead Ahead and FAQ. Admission is free.

It was poetry, in fact, that initially connected the two. When they were first together, they collaboratively wrote 50 sonnets — a poem of 14 lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and structure. One wrote every other line, then handed it to the other. Sandra Doller refers to the poems as a “beautiful record of that time” and something to “mark the beginning of an ongoing communication — a marriage.”

The pair — who married in 2005 and later merged their last names of Miller (Sandra) and Doyle (Ben) to make Doller — maintains differences.

Sandra Doller’s background in other art forms, including dance and playwriting, has an important role in her current work. She has been told that her writing is best when heard aloud, something she also relates to performance art.

“I am more concerned with utterance and sound than with strict semantic or everyday sense,” she said. “And I’m pretty sure that comes from performance.”

Meanwhile, Ben Doller, who also attended the Writers’ Workshop but at a different time than his wife, draws inspiration from his history with music and the collaborative process that allows for discoveries he could never make in isolation. He tries to find a way to mix many voices into one text.

“Despite the difficulty most people associate with or encounter in the kind of writing I like or aspire to create, there should be some comforting clarity in the fact that it is, in a sense, a kind of music and a very simple music at that,” he said.

The couple has read at Prairie Lights before, but the bookstore has more meaning to Ben Doller. The poet worked at Prairie Lights for two years, answering questions and alphabetizing books.

“It’s an important place to me, as I know it is to many people,” he said. “I look forward to cruising the stacks in what I feel is one of the best places in the world.”

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