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Iowa’s poet toured with bands

Debra Marquart, Iowa’s fourth Poet Laureate, was a singer-songwriter before finding a rhythm with poetry

June 25, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

Iowa has only had the post of poet laureate since 2000. The fourth laureate, Debra Marquart, is an English professor at Iowa State who followed a winding road to becoming the appointed poet for the state.

Marquart said growing up in small town North Dakota with little to do was not altogether a bad thing. "Music and storytelling were the two things that kind of kept me going creatively, Marquart said. "I was kind of a dreamy, imaginative child."

Marquart went to college to study social work, but dropped out as she began a singing career, lending her voice and lyrics to several widely touring bands over the years, her pipes belting out country, rock and heavy metal until it all ended with a fire. Flames burst out of the band's trailer wiping out $60,000 worth of instruments and gear.

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Singing with the band had left Marquart exhausted from lawsuits and traveling and fighting with band members, and most of all trying to hide the catastrophe her life had become from her parents. In the chaos, she said she had forgotten about poetry.

With its similarity to song lyrics, it was a natural fit. She wrote a collection of short stories inspired by musician friends and the unusual experiences they had in their musical travels.

She saw an ad for a creative writing fellowship at Iowa State University, applied, and got it. Two master's degrees later, Marquart is now in a position to bring her passion for poetry to rural communities across the state.

As Iowa's new poet laureate, Marquart says she wants to hold workshops and readings at libraries, schools and community centers across Iowa as a way to share stories and encourage others to share theirs. She also wants to launch a "Poets in Schools" program that will focus on Iowa's many rural communities.

Marquart said she hopes to take Iowa State University students with her to high schools middle schools, even grade schools to do singer-songwriter music performances and creative writing workshops.

Iowa's previous poets laureate were Iowa Writers' Workshop professor Marvin Bell in 2000, Robert Dana, a former WWII radio operator who taught for 40 years at Cornell College, and Mary Swander, professor emerita of English at Iowa State University, who brings her one-actor show about farm families to communities throughout the state.

The poet laureate is appointed by the governor.

 
 
 

 

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