Tuesday, November 27, 2007


(The italicized verses thrown in amongst my words below are excerpts from the poem "Prairie" by Carl Sandburg, taken from his 1918 collection "Cornhuskers.")

I was born on the prairie and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me a song and a slogan.

yours truly. sister's farm, summer of 2004

i have a great affinity for the midwest. i've traveled all over the lower 48 — the pacific northwest, the desert of the southwest, the badlands of the dakotas, the heart of texas, our nation's capital, and so on — but it's the prairie lands of illinois and iowa that hold my heart. there's a Romantic tie that i have to the land. see, my brother and sister are iowa farmers, and i spent a lot of time on their land when i was younger. there's something very comforting about being out in the middle of a field, alone with the sound of the grass in the wind. as funny as it sounds, it's almost womb-like. there's a serenity here that i haven't found anywhere else on my travels outside of the midwest.

and i'm not alone.

despite the "brain drain" still happening (the exodus of recent graduates from Iowa higher educational institutes), it seems that the tide is turning in many areas around here. we've seen many iowa cities go through downtown revitalizations for the larger part of the last decade. world-class museums have popped up. downtown parks have been beautified. here in our stretch of mississippi river towns, an immense amount of cleanup has happened, and long bike paths with public art abound. the quality of life has risen, and all over iowa, there are 20- and 30-somethings who have decided to either never leave their home state, or to move back home after college or a hiatus of some sort. (i have gone through this myself - from the quad cities, to college, to chicago, and back home again, and i have seen this route personally in my circles of friends, and second-handedly on blog sites & news articles).

so, what is it about this that shocks people? why do people on the coasts seem to have such negative opinions about the midwestern lifestyle? what exactly do they picture going on here?

Here the water went down, the icebergs slid with gravel, the gaps and the valleys hissed, and the black loam came, and the yellow sandy loam.

Here between the sheds of the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, here now a morning star fixes a fire sign over the timber claims and cow pastures, the corn belt, the cotton belt, the cattle ranches.

Here the gray geese go five hundred miles and back with a wind under their wings honking the cry for a new home.

Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.

The prairie sings to me in the forenoon and I know in the night I rest easy in the prairie arms, on the prairie heart.

two from the essentials series. lambda print mounted to plexi. 2004. artist: me.

so, here we are. a place that some people fly over on their way to NYC or LA, look out the window, and perhaps give an inward laugh, thinking "what a vast amount of... nothing."


i've had close friends leave the quad cities permanently. they now reside in rapid city (south dakota), seattle, and tempe, and another plans to leave for minneapolis in a few months. some didn't want to go, but followed great schooling; some had an urge to leave that was more strong than any other yearning they had ever felt. and i certainly understand how each of them came to their decisions to leave. as much as i abhorred my 5+ years in chicago, i know the positives of big city life. but i can't understand the slight, nuanced statements i hear from them sometimes. these jabs are always innocuous, as they're coming from the closest friends in my life. but there's always some sort of a misunderstanding on their part — a buying into some stereotypes about the political climate here (it's not staunchly bible-thumping conservative), the "nightlife" (our downtowns have some pretty damn good food and drink establishments, as well as other entertainment), and the overall sense of the people back in their hometown area. even though we all got a kick out of the once-in-a-very-blue moon headline that read Two pigs on the Loose Captured in Downtown Davenport, i hope they understand things are pretty damn nice here.

Omaha and Kansas City, Minneapolis and St. Paul, sisters in a house together, throwing slang, growing up.

Towns in the Ozarks, Dakota wheat towns, Wichita, Peoria, Buffalo, sisters throwing slang, growing up.

a photo of the Quad City Swing baseball team, playing at John O'Donnell Stadium in downtown Davenport, Iowa. credit: Corey Lenger, taken from www.city-data.com

a before & after shot of the Crescent Macaroni Building in downtown Davenport, Iowa. The building now features some very nice rentals (some possibly condos) in that exposed-ceiling loft feel. credit: Chris "QCI" at Quad City images. for more compairson photos like this, go here.

a somewhat recent image of downtown Davenport, Iowa at night. credit to an unknown photographer, taken from the Absolute DSM forums

but enough about my friends' stories; they hold no true ill will. as i stated, i understand matters of personal taste in choosing one's living environment/locale. but there is a more acute, deliberate mocking of the midwest out there, and like anything of that nature, it's pretty sophomoric.

why do people think we don't have a liberal/progressive bone in our collective body? why are our cities pictured as dead, boring, and decrepit? why do farmers get portrayed as such backwards people in popular culture? i'm not trying to answer the question "is this heaven?" with the response "no... this is iowa" because there are some backwards folks, some shitty sections of town, and some nights where i wish there were more "culture" here. but you know what? you'll find a bit of those things anywhere.

in my iowa, there are atheist gatherings spawned by local meetup.com groups. there are $5 punk rock shows put on by 16 year old kids. there's a mortgage that doesn't kill me. there's a work commute is now 10 minutes instead of 2 hours (yes... that was one-way, people). there's a professional-class outdoor skate and bmx park. there are professional artists who have lived all over the country, yet settled here. you can drive for 10 minutes and suddenly be in the middle of the beautiful, midwestern prairie.

the list goes on and on.

so... to hell with the naysayers. let them poke fun. the joke's on them.

O prairie mother, I am one of your boys.
I have loved the prairie as a man with a heart shot full of pain over love.
Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.
. . .
I speak of new cities and new people.
I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.
I tell you yesterday is a wind gone down,
a sun dropped in the west.
I tell you there is nothing in the world
only an ocean of to-morrows,
a sky of to-morrows.
I am a brother of the cornhuskers who say
at sundown:
To-morrow is a day.

an arial view of downtown Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa. credit to an unknown photographer, taken from the Absolute DSM forums

the best front yard in the world - i help my nephew build a swingset, circa 1999.

downtown Dubuque, Iowa. credit to an unknown photographer, taken from the Absolute DSM forums

not a bad way to grow up. my niece and nephew collect walking sticks, praying manti, and other bugs to give me a biology show.


Maat B' Oenito said...


You're like the Ambassador of Midwesternesia. I picture you reciting that post from behind a podium wearing a top hat and a velvet vest.

I'll vote for you.

Matt said...

yeah, i wanted to write somethng, but i had no idea it would come off so "heartfelt" and (possibly) cheesy. but whatevs - i love it here, and when people talk smack about it in inane ways, it makes you roll your eyes.

anyways, welcome back to the land that lacks golden hashish pushers. glad you made it in one piece.

Chao said...

Matt, I won't vote for you if you're dressed like a member of Dimmu Borgir, as Maat described.

That being said, I love that you have the help of the praying mantis family doing shows for your entertainment. \m/

Matt said...

"hey look at me - my name's chad! i can pull a black metal reference out of anything! wakka wakka!"

oh by the way, i might get in touch with you about borrowing your SG this saturday, late morning, if that will work. deerehole yankee foxtrot. over.

pioneer98 said...

I know exactly how you feel. I get frustrated with the misconceptions about Iowa and the midwest. I understand why some kids have to leave to pursue a career, but I don't understand why they come back with such a misconception about the area they grew up in. I'm actually excited about Iowa and the Quad Cities. The horrible depression of the 1980s left such a large shadow that we are just now starting to emerge from it. More has happened here in the last 6 years than in the previous 26.

Matt said...

and i hope it keeps getting better.

i was born in '75 and raised in east moline. my dad worked 30 years at Harvester, and i remember a couple periods of time where we had some sort of aid by getting "government cheese," honey, peanut butter, etcetera. I'm not sure if that was before or after Case IH folded up, but yes... those were scary times. I vaguely recall people talking about the area being well on its way to becoming a ghost town, but that could have been due to my dad's worrisome nature about a myriad of things related to saving money.

thanks for commenting, pioneer. i often read your site.

around here, it's not *always* serious, as you might have seen already. Hope you stop back.