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Poet collects spoken word Ag stories

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Iowa poet laureate, Mary Swander will be coming to the Washington Public Library on Saturday, March 16, as part of the writers workshop.
Submitted photo Iowa poet laureate, Mary Swander will be coming to the Washington Public Library on Saturday, March 16, as part of the writers workshop.

Iowa’s poety laureate, Mary Swander thinks of her spoken word ag series as something akin to the Moth Radio Hour.

On Saturday, March 16, Swander will be holding a workshop at the Washington Public Library at 10 a.m. to noon.

Like the Moth, “Farm to Fork Tales” is focused on personal stories. This Saturday’s workshop will be something like an audition for the performance Swander plans to hold in Washington later in the year.

“I get other people up on their feet and telling stories about food and farming,” said Swander. “It can be farmers telling their stories, it can be people practicing the culinary arts, it can be a forager talking about looking for mushrooms. It’s kind of like the foodies’ Moth Radio.”

This is part of Swander’s theater company, Wonder Women Productions, which performs dramatic monologues. Swander’s own focus is on farming and rural environment.

Her first performance of “Farm to Fork Tales” was held March 10 at Ames’s Public Library to a crowd of over 100. The Ames performance was focused on century farms, two others in the works with other themes like immigrant farmers.

Though these dramatic monologues are more like spoken word essays and anecdotes than poems, Swander feels there still is a connection between the two mediums.

“Four or five Washington people will volunteer to tell their stories,” Swander explained. “Then they’ll work with a story-telling coach who works with them over the phone or Skype. Then we have a performance; and after, we have an open mic where anyone can tell their story. It’s a great time.”

Swander has been regularly writing and performing plays for the past 10 years; it’s actually theater that got her interest in poetry. As a shy kid in school who didn’t talk much, one of her teachers described her as “hopeless” to Swander’s mother, so she was put into music therapy.

“It was my worst nightmare when I went in there, but I gradually came out of my shell and started to like it,” Swander said. “I always liked the musicality and candances of Shakespeare whenever we’d put something on, I loved the iambic pentameter and that actually got me writing poetry.”

Swander thinks poetry is meant to be performed and finds the shift from plays to poems rather natural.

Eventually, Swander would like to see “Farm to Fork Tales” be released similarly to The Moth, as podcast or video. Her greater hope is that people get an apprecation of food art and agricutlure

“It’s a lot of fun, it’s historical,” Swander said. “It’s a way to get people involved in the healthy food system, it’s getting an appreciation for the art and drawing attention to our current food system.”