UI libraries bind local poet’s massive poem

BY RYAN COLE | JANUARY 25, 2011 7:10 AM

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Eight hundred thirty thousand words. Ten thousand one hundred-nineteen pages. One hundred days.

“It was like breathing poetry,” said Dave Morice, the writer responsible for the 100-volume tome in the University of Iowa Main Library.

Morice participated in a marathon poetry event last summer and fall, writing 100 pages of poetry nearly every day from July 4 to Oct. 31. The preservation and conservation department of the University Libraries recently bound the collection, Poetry City Marathon, and it plans to feature the 2-foot-thick book on display.

Nancy Kraft, the head of preservation and conservation in the library system, embraced the opportunity for her department to bind Morice’s book.

“I thought it was an interesting project,” she said. “I like it when staff come with something they’ll challenge themselves on.”

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With little guidance, preservation assistant Bill Voss devised a system of binding that allows for regular perusal of the book while ensuring its endurance for later generations.

“It’s not a practical sort of book. It’s more like a book sculpture,” he said, and he “didn’t think it would be possible.”

Library officials are unsure of where and how to feature the book, though Kraft believes it will be on display for the annual Iowa City Book Festival, July 15-17.

This type of exposure aligns with Morice’s philosophy toward poetry.

“To me, poetry should be brought out in public,” he said. “It should be extreme writing.”

Morice has brought poetry to the public in more than 60 marathons, many of them occurring in Iowa City. In one of his most famous events, Morice wrapped the entire city block around Prairie Lights with a poem, calling the experience “the most wonderful day of my literary life.”

Yet, in terms of length, time, scope, and content, the Poetry City Marathon process stands unparalleled.

“I wanted this poem to do things no other poem has ever done before,” Morice said. He employed a myriad of techniques and forms, vacillating between free, “slice of time” writing and more revised, structured style.

Some expressed doubt about Morice’s ability to complete such a Herculean undertaking.

“I tried to dissuade him,” said Tom Walz, Morice’s friend and coworker. “I had doubt all along the way.”

Paul Ingram, a Prairie Lights book buyer and a former roommate of Morice, said he was “not in the least surprised.”

“He loves extreme poetry,” Ingram said. “This is what he does, and this is what he’s best at.”

Though the exact future of the book is still uncertain, Voss is confident the book will continue to be a part of the Iowa City community and available to the public. Until then, he is satisfied with his involvement in the record-setting project.

“I’m just happy the thing hasn’t fallen apart,” he said.

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