by Paul Engle
This book is the 12th in the U/Iowa Press’s series, “Singular Lives: The Iowa Series in North American Autobiography.” This particular memoir is that of Paul Engle, noted American poet, editor, teacher, literary critic, novelist, and playwright. He is perhaps best remembered as the long-time director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and as founder of the International Writing Program (IWP), both at the University of Iowa.
In the dedication to his loving account, Engle writes, “I had a lucky life. Such a way will never be lived here again. It has gone with the wild buffalo skinners and the Indian fighters, with my mother’s hands whose tough calluses tore the sheets as she made my bed, with that marvelous rich reek of harnesses and saddle leather, of horse manure and sweat which I happily breathed each day.”
The anecdotes are rich and captivating. From family holidays with lively activities, uncles, aunts, and memorable foods to his job in the neighborhood drugstore dispensing castor oil, sodas, tonics, and liniments, Engle’s absorbing stories capture the characters and atmosphere of life in mid-America at the beginning of the 20th century.
In reviewing his childhood in Cedar Rapids, IA, Engle found “the raw materials that shaped him” not only as a poet, but as a person as well. A worthy successor to Edgar Lee Masters, Engle recalls his boyhood years in Iowa which were so different from “the tasteless, flavorless, homogenized world” of the present.