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Poem by M.F.A. Student Erin Kiley Will Appear in Iowa Anthology

Erin Kiley had a pastoral upbringing on a Midwestern farm, but the poem that the Old Dominion University master's student will contribute to the Lyrical Iowa 2009 anthology was inspired by the Adhan, the call to prayer made five times a day to followers of Islam.

Before coming to ODU, Kiley was a middle school teacher in New York City and in her apartment she could hear broadcasts of the Adhan from loud speakers at a nearby mosque. "It's sung in Arabic. A song I didn't truly understand became part of my daily life," she said.

The poem, titled "Call to Prayer," describes the Adhan "keening over the rooftops of Brooklyn" and "pouring through our open windows." The last stanza reads: "By the end I had memorized the tune,/sang along though I didn't know the words./By then, I knew what he was saying:/Come back. Always:/Come back."

After moving to Virginia in 2007 to begin her creative writing studies at ODU, Kiley says she dreamed of the Adhan and felt wistful. "I realized the song could work in a poem about loss of a relationship, and the larger loss of a time and place. A lot of my work is about being drawn back and forth between rural and urban life. Wherever I am, I feel tied to what I've left and the desire to return."

The farm in Iowa on which Kiley was raised has belonged to her family for more than a century. She did not venture far to get her undergraduate degree in English from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, or her first job in 2002 as a business news reporter in Des Moines. The teaching job and graduate studies at Fordham University took her to New York in 2004.

Lyrical Iowa is the annual publication of the Iowa Poetry Association and is in its 63rd year of publishing the work of poets from the state. More than 2,400 poems were submitted for the 2009 anthology and judges selected about 400 to publish.

The award-winning poet Luisa Igloria, an ODU associate professor and director of the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program, is Kiley's adviser, and the young poet says she has been influenced in countless ways by her mentor.

"Last fall, our poetry workshop was small and intimate-just a few poets sitting around a table at a local coffee shop," Kiley said. "We shared our poems with Luisa and she shared her poems with us. We were honored to hear her new work, and were inspired by her talent and drive.

"Then, in the spring, she taught a larger, hybrid nonfiction/poetry workshop. We were challenged to try new things, pushing the boundaries between genres, as well as between written and visual art. Students created stories and poems, as well as related paintings, sculptures, short films and more. The experience was frustrating, challenging, and fun. The result was better writing and more creative writers."

Kiley said Igloria recognized that her student was hesitant to submit her work for publication. "So she made it mandatory. That's why I entered the Lyrical Iowa contest."

"Erin's poem was one of several she brought to one of our 600-level poetry workshops last year," Igloria said. "We're elated that it's gotten this recognition for her."

During the fall semester, Kiley will be working on her thesis and also serving as an ODU graduate instructor of rhetoric and literature. She intends to submit more of her work for publication, and after she gets her M.F.A. she wants to continue teaching along with the writing.

"Please don't ask where I plan to end up," she said, "because I have no idea. I love Iowa and New York. Virginia is a lovely state. There's also a long list of intriguing new places I could explore. Wherever I go, I know I'll always be drawn back to the places and people who've changed my life-including Dr. Luisa Igloria."

This article was posted on: August 21, 2009

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