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Poet Helen Harrington

From Iowa farm country, a writer who celebrates the song of the earth and self

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IOWA farmland has a slow serenity about it. Giant cylindrical hay bales squat in the fields at precise distances from one another. Telephone wires stretch leisurely between dull brown poles. Startled rabbits dart up from the edge of the two-lane highway, and disappear into high grass. The grass itself has the quality of crisp strips of paper, crinkling in the hot June sun. The land provides things like corn, soybeans, hay and grass for livestock, but it also yields poetry and symmetry, prose and possibility. It is the touchstone for 80-year old Helen Harrington, who for 38 years has published over 500 insightful and searching poems on the Home Forum.

The Home Forum thought readers who have enjoyed Helen's work might jump at the chance to meet the poet in her habitat, so I visited Helen on her farm along the Iowa-Missouri border.

This woman, whose white hair rises like a cloud behind her head, was dressed in a robin's-egg blue pantsuit that matched her eyes. She introduced me around to the two dogs, three cats, and one nest-building wren, then settled in quickly to discussing the Chinese government crackdown and the anti-intellectual bias in this country. Her formal education stopped after high school but Helen's learning encompasses philosophic texts, classic literature, newspapers, and keen observation, and she is adept at discussing, analyzing, and probing issues to their core.

Helen feeds off of the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour; she catches Washington Week in Review; she reads the Des Moines Register. And she despairs of the leadership in Washington. In the '60s, which Helen considers her most exciting and happy period, she put out her own poetry magazine, and garnered honors in state and national poetry contests. She proudly showed me the yellowed, psychedelic flower-covered scrapbook where she keeps clippings of newspaper articles, including one titled ``Lamoni Woman Prolific Poet.''


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