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Armstrong poet knows it

By Staff | Jan 3, 2017

Angie (Jensen)?Olney’s winning poem in this year’s Iowa Poetry Association takes place in the summer while Olney is sitting on the deck of her home in Armstrong. The title is, “Maintenance Request,”?and Olney is the speaker, making the request of herself.

Olney envisions the improvements to the back yard she would make, how beautiful her corner of the natural world would be, if the work in certain areas would be done.

However, reality sets in, and due to physical and practical constraints, the vision remains just that.

This year marks the 15th year of Olney’s publication in the Iowa Poetry Association’s anthology, Lyrical Iowa.

Olney, 55, has written poetry since she was about 18 or 19. She writes from her life:?about her mother and her son, about surviving cancer.

“Dad missed out on most of this, because he died when I was 25,”?Olney said.

But the anthologies and other publications Olney has achieved have been “a very big deal”?to her mother and siblings, Olney said.

In “A Boy Named Nathan,”? [sidebar] 1999, which she calls her “first legitimately published poem,” Olney writes about life raising a young boy.

“This is also something of me that he will have forever. Poetry can be an eternal fixture, a link from the past,”?Olney said.

Olney enjoys classic American poetry, and lists as her favorite poets Shel Silverstein of “Where the Sidewalk Ends”?fame, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, and Robert Frost.

Olney and her husband lived in?Armstrong from the spring of 2007 until Dec. 19, when they had to relocate to Boone.

Olney once tried to be a freelance writer for The Estherville News, and it was not talent, but time that got in the way.

“It’s kind of bittersweet for me. I?wrote a test article, which ran on the front page, and had an arrangement at one time to submit for possible publication human interest stories I could uncover, but I?had a harder time doing that for Estherville and living in Armstrong. I was in management, too, so that pulled me away constantly,”?Olney said.

On growing into her artistry, Olney said, “I am enjoying where I am with my creativity.”

“I?may be able to get back to some of the other pursuits I’ve had to table so long. It’s always been sort of like ?Sophie’s Choice decision for me with all my loves and passions,”?Olney said.

“Do I write??Do I paint??I’ve gotten my easels, oils, acrylics, and chalks back out. I?also silk screened and did linoleum prints in the past, so I do that from time to time, but sparsely,”?Olney said.

Olney is a visual artist as well, in abstract and realist painting, some ink drawing, and much more.

Olney’s interest in science drives some of her paintings, more than her poetry, she said.

“In addition, I like to reupholster and refinish funiture.?I actually once refinished a steamer trunk that came from Denmark with relatives that still had their names in gold lettering underneath all the junk. What a find and treasure that was for so many reasons!”?Olney said.

Olney’s poem was chosen from 1,034 entries. The poems were judged this year by William R. Reyer of Tiffin, Ohio. The categories include:?National/World Events, Sonnets, Poems for Children, Haiku, Humorous Verse, and also divisions for students.

The Association is also now shipping its 71st edition of Lyrical Iowa, the annual anthology comprised of poems by Iowa writers of all ages.

The cost of the book is $10, postpaid to anywhere in the U.S.

The Iowa Poetry Association is a non-profit organization whose sole objective is to promote interest in and appreciation for better poetry by Iowans. IPA offers two workshops each year in Des Moines. Membership is open to any individual or group with an Iowa address.

The Association is an affiliate society of The Academy of American Poets and The National Federation of State Poetry Societies,?Inc.

Winning poems and others selected from annual contest entries are published in late fall each year and may be ordered from the editor. There is no entry fee and membership in IPA is not required to submit poems.

Poetry is dying; it’s proven quantitatively in a national Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). In 1992, 17 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year. Twenty years later, that number had fallen to 6.7 percent.

The decline in poetry readership appears to be unique among the arts. “Since 2002, the share of poetry-readers has contracted by 45 percent-resulting in the steepest decline in participation in any literary genre,” the study concludes. Over the past 20 years, the downward trend is nearly perfectly linear — and doesn’t show signs of abating.

Poetry, according to the study, is less popular than jazz, dance, and only half as popular as knitting. The only major arts category with a narrower audience is opera.

However, this study looked at poetry on the page.

Poetry on the stage is another matter. There are national contests like Poetry Out Loud, a kind of National Spelling Bee, but for reciting poetry.

There are poetry slams all over, most famously Literary Death match and Def Poetry Jam. In 2002, the Poetry Foundation received a $200 million dollar charitable gift.

Olney said she has not performed her poetry at a reading due to stage fright, though she has been invited by the Pearson Lakes Art Center and Logan Magnolia School District.

According to the SPPA, the ebb and flow of poetry readership does coincide with the academic year:?more readers in the spring and fall, and fewer in the summer.

“It sickens and saddens me [that the readership of poetry has declined], but I?hate to admit with the progress and popularity of technology, it will continue to decline, probably,”?Olney said.

Olney said she plans to continue sending annual poems to Lyrical Iowa.

The deadline is Feb. 28, and most years Olney has something in the works by this time of year.

“With the move and other issues, I don’t have anything yet, but I?might be pushing in the last hours this time,”?Olney said with a chuckle.