A native Iowan has published a book of poetry featuring one poem for each of the state’s 99 counties. John Thompson spent two full years traveling across Iowa doing research for his book "99 Voices, 99 Lives." Thompson, a Lamoni native who now lives in Pella, says the project let him combine his passions of poetry and history to create the 99 individual works.
He says, "It wasn’t to difficult. Iowa’s full of culture and hard-working communities and very creative people. The biggest problem, other than the travel expenses, was what to chose from among usually three or four options per county." Thompson says he had the 99-county writing project in mind for years and finally decided to tackle it and create the book of wide-ranging poems.
Thompson says: "Generally, they’re about events and historical aspects. I tried not to write about too many people. I’d say 11 or 12 of the poems are about people because I didn’t want the book of poetry to have a strong biography feel. I wanted it to be more diverse than that."
The 43-year-old Thompson teaches language arts and social studies at Eddyville-Blakesburg High School. While many of the poems came easily, he says some Iowa counties posed a real challenge to his inspiration, particularly the southern tier of counties. Thompson says: "I was born and raised there. Lamoni is my boyhood home and I don’t know if it’s because they’re sparsely populated counties or because they were so close to home but Wayne and Decatur, Ringgold and Taylor, in fact, the reference librarian at Taylor (County) in Bedford just told me ‘Nothing’s ever happened here and no one famous ever came out of here.’ I thought she was joking but I think she meant it."
Thompson will read from the collection on Tuesday (July 24) at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. Listen live via the University of Iowa Writing University Website . If you’re interested in getting the book, it’s for sale at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, or contact Thompson by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org .