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Lucy In the Sky With Darrell: Actualism Part 2: PDF E-mail
Lucy In the Sky With Darrell
Part 2

The Story of Actualism

In Iowa City

A Prose History


Poetry City

To read the other ACTUAL chapters, click here

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On October 10, 1975, I wrote a poem on a sheet of paper wrapping a city block. Forty-seven businesses gave their permission to cover their torefronts for the poem. Numerous actors and performers accompanied me around the block--Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater, The Sugar Plum Fairies, The Eulenspiegel Puppet Theater, and many others. As the day progressed, I knew that the greatest marathon of all was unrolling around the block, waiting for words, and waiting for a surpirse. Now, 26 years later, I realize how right I was. So many things happened during those wonderful, irreplaceable hours! In the days after the marathon, I wrote--in marathon fashion--a memoir about the event itself. It was a living dream show. I wanted to capture it on paper. Otherwise, it would it sink in the quicksand of consciousness till reaching oblvion. 7-30-11

From July 4 to Halloween, 2010, I wrote a 10,000-page poem as part of an exhibit celebrating Iowa City’s designation as a City of Literature. I titled it “Poetry City Marathon” after the original of 1975. At the end of the “Prose History,” there are several news articles about the guy who tore the poem down.

Part I


On October 9, 1975, I had planned to write a poem around an entire city block in downtown Iowa City. The paper, 16 inches wide by however many feet long, was to be attached to the buildings on the block bounded by Dubuque St., Iowa Ave., Clinton St., and Washington St. I was to begin at noon and write till 6 pm.

I woke up at 8 am to my alarm clock after about 4 hours of sleep. Last night when I came home there was a note on my door: “David--Jeannie, Gil & I drove up--See you here about 9 am--if you have to go anywhere I’ll see you at 11 am at the Methodist Church--Mom”. Since I’d planned to meet Pat at Hamburg Inn #1 at 8:30 to get the last things together for the marathon and the Joyce Holland reading, I figured I’d leave a note on my door explaining that I’d have to meet them at the church. As I was getting ready to leave, there was a knock at the door.

“Hi, Dave. Did you just get up?”

“Oh, yeh, hi Mom, c’mon in.”

She came in and sat down while I finished tying my shoes. Jeannie and Dad were downstairs. We went down to meet them and the four of us drove over to Pat’s. After picking her up, we drove out to the Maid-Rite Corner for breakfast. Eggs, pancakes, orange juice, coffee, etc. My Dad paid for it all. Oh, we’d run into Paul Ingram and he came with us.

“I’ve still got to get some things done before I go to class at 11:00.”

“Jeannie and I can meet you somewhere before class.”

“I’ll be going back right after breakfast. I’ve still got to work today,” said my Dad.

“What time should I be at Lind’s?” Paul asked.

“Mom, you can meet me at Lind’s at a quarter to 11. And, Paul, if you could get to Lind’s at 11:30, Steve Toth’ll meet you there to begin taping up the paper. I should be there pretty soon after that, since I’ll call off the class at 11:30.”

My Dad dropped us off at my place, and then he left to drive back to St. Louis. My Mom and Jeannie and Pat went upstairs with me. Paul left for the time being. After we dropped off the luggage, we went back downstairs and out into the slightly cool, brisk day.

“It looks like it’s going to be a great day. No rain, not too much wind. I hope it stays that way.”

“I’m sure it will,” said Pat. “I prayed to St. Jude for a good day.”

“My Mom and Jeannie left to walk around town window-shopping. Pat and I bought some film, a balloon, and other supplies. We carried the remaining props and equipment from my place and hers to Lind’s Art S
Supply Store on Dubuque St. where the marathon was going to start and finish. When we had most of the preliminaries completed, I started walking to the Methodist Church for class. Then, half-way there, I remembered I was supposed to meet my Mom and Jeannie at Lind’s. I turned back. As I was about to cross the street a half block from Lind’s, I saw my Mom coming the other way.

I almost forgot to meet you,” I said.

Jeannie was a few feet behind her. The three of us went to class. Alice, Fanny, Elizabeth Countryman, Barry Nickelsberg (of the Iowa Arts Council) and Jackie (also Arts Council) were waiting for us.

“Howdy!” I said. “I see everything’s already set up. Today’s meeting will be short, as I said earlier, because of the Marathon.”
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I noticed that three class-members were wearing their Poetry City, U.S.A. Buttons. I gave Barry and Jackie buttons, and they put them on. Then, after a couple more class members arrived and sat at the round table that we usually used and the non-members sat on a nearby church-pew, I handed out the Poetry-Sheet. It was a 3-page multilithed worksheet containing pooems by the class and as a special for the marathon, a copy of The Muscatine Mummy, which was the first public poem written by Dr. Alphabet (August, 1974 in Muscatine, Ia., during the Great River Days Festival).

I introduced my Mom and my sister to the class and Barry and Jackie, so the first few minutes of this meeting involved general conversation. Shortly, we began reading the poems on the Poetry Sheet. More people arrived as the class progressed. We took turns reading The Muscatine Mummy, each person reading about 5 lines. At 11:30, I had to end the class.

“It’s time to go. I”ve got to get reading for the Marathon. I hope everyone will come by later on. Bye.”

My Mom and Jeannie stayed to talk to the people in class and to the Arts Council people. Barry followed me from the lounge (where the class is held) to the lunchroom to tell me that the had been talking to everyone about writing letters to the Council on Aging in order to demonstrate the success of the poetry program so it could continue beyond November.

“They said they’d write, but be sure to remind them again Tuesday. They can give you there letters by Thursday, and you can send them to me so I’ll get them by Friday.”

“Okay,” I replied.


At Lind Art Supply, I met Paul out in front where he’d been pacing around looking for Steve Toth to help with the taping of the paper.

“What time’s Steve supposed to be here?” he asked.

“11:30, I thought.”

We went into Lind’s. Jeannie Scott and Jacquee Dickie were waiting inside to help.

“Great! Now there are enough people to begin the taping. Just get it started down to the corner, to the Best Steak House. When people see the paper on the buildings, they’ll start wondering what’s going on. Then Joyce’ll begin the Marathon at noon with her reading. By the way, where is Joyce?”

“She hasn’t been here yet,” said Paul.

I went downstairs to the basement of Lind’s to change into my secret identity of Dr. Alphabet. The costume was down there waiting for me, as were the paper, matchbooks, buttons, wooden nickels, and other paraphernalia to be used during the day. I slipped my alphabet slacks on just as Renee, one of the Lind’s crew, came down the steps.

“Those are nice pants,” she said. “Where’d you get ‘em?”

“I painted them,” I replied.

Now I began to feel the nervousness and stage-frightfulness that’d appeared previously as a muted paranoia. Now I knew there was no turning back. I wondered whether people would enjoy the outfit and the writing, or whether they would react in one of many possible negative ways: “He’s nuts!” “Show-off!” “Publicity gimmick!” “That ain’t poetry!” I wondered if they’d think it was just a joke or a trick or a ridiculous idea. Why deny it? I felt on the spot, and it was a spot that I’d created for myself. As one of my friends had put it, “You’ve created a monster that’s going to take you along for the ride.” [In my son Danny’s introduction to the current Poetry City Marathon, he compares the writing to Frankenstein’s monster.] At least that made it seem beyond my control, which meant that I didn’t have to really worry about it anymore. Whatever happened would happen no matter what I did. (Though fleetingly the thought crossed my mind that I could just split town and see what happened by calling someone long distance. Not seriously, though. It was just one of those Mark Twain fantasies.) On the other hand, the people at Lind’s, the workers and the friends who showed up, seemed so enthusiastic and positive about the coming event that I’d begun feeling much better about it myself.

Renee went back upstairs. I put on my alphabet shirt. Joyce came down.

“That looks great!” I said.

“Should I wear it with the top out or in?”

“Out. That way it covers up the lacing and makes the letters flow together better.”

We were talking about her tan and brown alphabet blouse and skirt. She’d been up at her placing changing into it. She took a pair of white socks out of a sack she had with her and handed them to me. I put them on, then put on my alphabet tennis shoes. We were both ready.

“Let’s go. Have you got everything?” I asked, knowing full well that at times as complex as that the answer would inevitably be no even if it seemed to be yes.


Joyce was still getting ready, so I carried one of the boxes upstairs. At the top of the steps (or somewhere--this is one of those memories that doesn’t exactly fit into the time sequence as I remember it--in the excitement of the day, there are a number of mixed-up memories, though they did somehow fit together correctly when they first happened) someone told me to hurry.

“C’mon, Dr. Alphabet, there’s a huge crowd and some TV men outside waiting for you.”

I chuckled and said, “Oh, yeh, sure.” I thought whoever it was must’ve been joking because just fifteen minutes ago there weren’t more than five or six people out in front of the story. That was another thing that I’d been worried about. What if no one showed up, or, to paraphrase an old anti-war saying, “What if they threw a poetry marathon and nobody came?” I walked over to the front door and peeked out.

“Holy cow! There’s--”

I raced downstairs to get Joyce.

“--a hundred or more people in front of Lind’s. And one of them’s got a TV camera. Let’s get goin’!”

We carried some paper and the boxes of Joyce’s reading equipment upstairs. Joyce was getting her stuff in order. I hated to see the people outside waiting. I was afraid they’d go away, so I picked up the alphabet cane, put on the alphabet tophat, and walked outside dressed in letters from head to toe. I didn’t realize what I was doing or what I would do. I stopped on the front steps. I looked at all the people--many of them I recognized.

“Nice day for a poetry marathon!” I yelled.

I walked down toward them a little. The paper was taped to the buildings all the way from Lind’s door to the corner about 100 feet away. I lifted up the alphabet cane. At the tip of it I’d taped a blue wide-tipped felt pen to create, as Joyce put it, a “writing crop.” I took the cap off the felt tip pen as though I were going to begin the writing. I held it in front of me for a second, then put the cap back on.

“Not yet,” I said to the people. “I’ll be back soon.”

I turned around and walked back inside. Joyce still wasn’t ready, and Paul Ingram was wondering when he should announce here. I was getting worried that we were wasting too much time.

“Don’t rush,” said Joyce. “Remember what you said: Let them wait.”

“Yeh, but I didn’t know they were out there.”

“Where’s the flag?” said Joyce.

“Right here.”

“And the sparkler?”

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I picked up the flag and handed it to her. I grabbed the envelope that contained the sparkler and took it out. She needed both these things for her first performance, The Alphabet Anthem. She laid the flag down and took the sparkler.

“Where’s some matches?”

She found a book of matches on the counter and lit one. Holding it up to the sparkler, she began trying to light it.

“Okay, Paul, go introduce her.”

He went out as she continued trying to light the sparkler.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” Paul said, “To begin the poetry marathon, Joyce Holland is going to sing the Alphabet Anthem. She’s almost ready to join you out here on stage. Joyce, are you coming?”

(Again, to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what Paul said, but that’s the basics.)

Joyce was still trying to light the sparkler. Ironically, she had been worried about getting a sparkler that didn’t work. I’d told her that some friends had given it to me just after the Fourth of July, and I thought for sure it would work.

“This thing isn’t even burning, much less shooting off sparks.”

At last it began glowing at the tip.

“Oh, no,” I laughed. “This isn’t a sparkler. It’s a punk. It won’t do anything but burn slowly. That’s what you use to light fire-crackers with.”

Paul had walked back in.

“Tell ‘em she’s coming out now, Paul.”

He went back outside.

“Here she is: Joyce Holland!”

(While this might sound like a confusing beginning to the day, I doubt if it appeared so to the outside people.)

Joyce picked up the unfurled alphabet flag. It was a special flag that I’d prepared in the few days preceding this event. I’d painted the letters of the alphabet on an artist’s canvas that I’d gotten from Lind’s. The canvas was gessoed on one side, thus white, and natural on the other, thus off-white. On the white side, I’d painted a large ABC in the center, the A blue, the B red, the C green. They measured about 5 inches tall. Around them I’d painted a double circle of the rest of the alphabet, in letters about 1 to 2 inches high. The canvas measured abouto 3 feet wide by 2 tall. On the off-white side I’d painted a large XYZ in the center surrounded by a double circle of the remaining letters of the alphabet, similar to the front side. The flag was tacked to a mop-handle that’d been spray-painted in blue, red, silver, and a couple other colors, to create a special mist-colored flag-staff. Anyway, it looked official. Joyce walked out holding it high in the air.

“A-ay bee cee dee eee!” she began singing to the tune of the national anthem, then stopped and spoke to the audience. “It’s a grand old flag. C’mon everybody. You know the words. Sing along with me, to the tune of a song you all know. A-ay bee cee dee eee!....”

It was amazing. The crowd actually sang along, and very patriotically, too. Paul Ingram’s voice in the crowd really helped Joyce to carry the people through the song. He and she were leading them from A to Z, and they enjoyed it! What a way to start the day, this day in particular!

I stood inside the store looking out the doorway. Some of the people could see me, but most didn’t know I was standing there. Everyone’s eyes were on Joyce. She looked like a visitor from another dimension, one in which letters of the alphabet were more than symbols that united to form words, one in which letters were individual bursts of beauty that could also form words to achieve a different level of beauty, the topmost level being poetry in its many forms. She also looked like a cheerleader from the 1950’s. The skirt she wore was somewhat short, like that of a high-school pom-pom girl at a football game. Surprisingly, her outfit was storebought, unlike mine, which was handpainted like the alphabet flag. She’d gotten the skirt and blouse at Seiffert’s, a clothing shop located on the very same block that I’d be writing around.

“Today’s poetry marathon is being brought to you by Lind Art Supplies, Catherine’s Ltd., Dirty Doug’s, Mama’s, The Best Steak House,…” she recited in the kind of voice that a cirus barker might use to introduce a family of acrobats and/or freaks. The list went on and on--45 places in all--to include every business around which the poem could be written, the businesses that had given permission (except for 3 or 4 second-floor places) for me to attach paper to their store-fronts. She ended with, “…and by the one who will do the writing, Dr. Alphabet!”

The audience had begun to laugh about half-way through the list. The longer the list grew, the more enjoyable and immense the actual “sponsorship” of the poem seemed to be. The idea that no poem had evber had so many businesses behind it--until this poem.

“My next work is called The Real Thing,” she said as she lifted a can of Coke out of a paper bag.

Smiling at the audience, she began to shake the can up and down. Suddenly, people began to move away or to get up from where they were sitting, as though they thought she was going to splash them with the fizzed soda. In response, Joyce jumped off the step in front of Lind’s door and ran toward the audience! They jumped back even further! What a fantastic cat and mouse game! As though the can were a bomb of some sort. Moments later, Joyce returned to the doorway with the well-shook can of pop.

“Would anyone like a Coke?” she asked.

Everyone laughed; no one took her up on the offer.

“My next poem is a tribute to Marcel Duchamp, who recited it himself in the ‘30’s or ‘40’s. It’s the letter W, and it’s pronounced, wuh. Here’s how it goes: Wuh. Wuh. Wuh. Wuh! Wuh! WUH! WUH! WUH!...”

She pronounced the sound wuh beginning fairly softly and increased to a shout, then down again to a whisper. She sounded like a wild animal more than I’d thought she would. It lasted shorter than I’d figured, too. But the audience liked it, as with all the poems that she did, so no sense in repeating that observation anymore!

“Next I’d like to recite some oldies but goodies. The first poems are from my Opus series. I’ll do three of them: Opus 1…. 1; Opus 5…. 5; Opus 9 and Opus 12…. 21.”

At this point, Marge and Renee, who work at Lind’s, were thoroughly enjoying Joyce’s performance. But Marge didn’t like the view from inside, so she suggested to Renee that they go out at the next chance.

“This one is called UBBLE SNOP, a Ballad: Uv cabble toyoc fezt yab sig fovulatic: etc.”

“She’s really great,” said Marge.

“This is SWEET NOTHINGS: 1. S,P,K,K,M,H…. etc.”

I wished that I could go outside, but I thought it best to stay inj the store until Joyce’s introduction of Dr. Alphabet.

“And this is BANANA: banananananana/ bananananananananana/ etc.”

The crowd was increasing in size. I imagine that it finally reached possibly 200 people in a semi-circular fan in front of the store. When I scanned the faces, I saw many people that I knew. I wondered, as before, how they would respond to Dr. Alphabet and to the introductory poem that I’d written. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read it, but –FLASHBACK:

“I showed your poem WELCOME TO POETRY CITY,” said Joyce as we were getting ready for her reading just after she came from her place.

“Oh, yeh. I was having my doubts about whether too--”

“Read it!” said Paul, “Definitely read it.”

“Yeh,” said Joyce. “And then after you finish reading the last line, turn immediately to the paper and begin writing. Don’t wait for any applause.”

“Wow,” I replied. “That sounds like a perfect way to begin.”

So I decided I would read it, but a person never knows how people will react until the time comes. Meanwhile, Joyce’s reading was moving on.

“I edit a poetry magazine called Matchbook. I’ve got 50 copies of it stapled inside Dr. Alphabet’s matchbooks, and inside five of them I signed my signature--”

Oh, no! I thought. There was supposed to be a Joyce Holland signature in five of the matchbooks so that she could say that whoever got the signed copies would get $1.00 for bringing them up to her after the reading. But the Matchbooks never got signed. And she didn’t know it.

“Joyce!” I whispered from the doorway. “The Matchbooks aren’t signed!”

“Uh,” she continued ad-libbingly to the audience, “I’m just going to toss these copies out for you to keep.”

She distributed the 50 by throwing them around the people.

“And I have some more here in this bag.”

Which she distributed in the same way.

I got my poem ready. She had one more poem to do, and then it was my turn. Her last work (which was originally going to be her second last work) was the POETRY CHEER, for which she’d made red, white, and blue pom-poms. One of her friends had planned on putting glitter on them, but didn’t get around to it. Still, they were quite fancy and flashy--a great addition to the poem.

“Today it’s homecoming in Poetry City. So for the event, I’d like to lead you in a Poetry Cheer. I’ll be the Cheerleader for this day. Just follow me.”

She took out the pom-poms and began to very energetically lead everyone in the cheer, by jumping up and down just like a real cheerleader!

“Give me a P!”


“Give me an O!”


Until she spelled out POETRY. Then,

“What’s it spell?”


“What’ve you got?”


Everyone applauded. At this point, Joyce had planned to end the reading with one more work. She was going to say, “My last work is called, What Is The Sound of Two Hundred Hands Clapping?” However, she decided that it would be best to end at the point at which the cheer ended instead of confusing people with extra attachments.

“And here’s Dr. Alphabet to read a poem before the writing.”

I walked out on the front step.

“I’d like to read this poem that I wrote last night as a warm-up for today. The title of this poem comes from a piece of graffiti over on the boardwalk down there. Someone wrote the words, “Welcome to Space City” on the wall, and someone else crossed off the word Space and wrote the word Poetry above it. The title of this poem is ‘Welcome to Poetry City.’”

The poem was a success! When I reached the last stanza, I read it,

That’s the way it is

in Poetry City,

That’s the way it is

today of all days.

turned quickly, (I had removed the cap of the magic marker on my alphabet cane in anticipation of this ending, walked over to the paper taped to the front of Lind’s, and began writing.

Part II


I had no idea that the first line of the poem would echo the last line of the one I’d just read. The marathon began with: Today is all days…. I kept on writing in big letters (foot-high) in order to get out of the main flow of the crowd. I’ve got to admit I felt a little nervous because I didn’t know what they expected me to do.

After I’d written the first couple of words, the crowd realized that my reading was over and that I’d actually begun the poem. So they applauded for the reading and the writing. With my back to them, I reached up and tipped my alphabet tophat. They laughed. I wrote.

It was so strange being near the crowd. The people in it were half people I knew and half strangers. All in all, I’d say there was more than 200 people there. They began to disperse now that our readings were over. I wonder where the Eulenspiegel Puppeteers were since they had been scheduled to do something during the noon hour.

“You’ll be done in no time,” said a voice next to me, “if you continue writing this big.”

“Oh, yeh, I guess I will. I’m almost at the corner. Well, I can always rest or write smaller.”

The guy who owned the voice also owned a television video outfit.

“I’m from Channel 9 News. What time do you think you’ll be finished. I’d like to get an interview with you.”

“I’ll be done at 6:00.”

“Oh. Well, maybe I could interview you right now, if that’s alright with you.”

“Sure. I can stop for awhile.”

He perched his camera on his shoulder, checked a few meters and buttons, adjusted the lens, and spoke.

“This is Bob Smith in Iowa City about to interview Dave Morice, alias Dr. Alphabet, who is starting a marathon poetry writing around a city block in the downtown area. Dave, what is prompting you to write.”

“The block,” I said truthfully though somewhat humorously. People listening to the interview thought it was funny.

“Could you elaborate,” said the interviewer.

“Well, this writing is part of a sculpture festival that’s been going on for the past week. The poem will be about the city itself.”

“Is there any particular name for this kind of poetry?”

You could say it’s a form of literary urban renewal.”

“How long wilol it take you to write around the block?”

“I plan on finishing in 6 hours.”

“What are some of the other things going on today.”

“Well, there was the reading by Joyce Holland, there will be a number of drama groups and musicians appearing throughout the day.”

“Thank you, Dave.”

While the interview was going on, I noticed that Louis Taber and Alice Gratke from my writing class [Poetry Class for People over 60] had showed up. They were standing behind the interviewer next to my mom and my sister.

“Yes I’m in his class,” said Louis. “That’s why I’m here. I want to see what he’s doing.”

He was speaking to my mom, though he was saying it for the benefit of anyone who could hear.

“Hi Dave,” said Alice. “Your mother and I have been having a very good conversation. How’s your writing coming along?”

“Fine,” I said. I saw a few more friends and said hi and talked to them briefly about the event.

What a perfect day it was! The temperature was a little cool, but just right with the Dr. Alphabet clothes on. If it were much higher, I would’ve been hot. Although the weather was supposed to be rain--a possibility--the sky was placid, the usual background with white streaks of cloud lazily drifting toward the horizon. Pure Indian summer. The kind of weather you barbecue over an open pit in the backyard. The type of day you play baseball on--for one last time before winter. A day for poetry.

Suddenly, out of the clear blue, the three people of the Eulenspiegel Puppet troop surround me with their puppets.

“Are you one of the puppets?” one of the puppets says in a stilted voice with a slightly English accent.

“I don’t think so,” I reply.

“That’s quite alright,” says another puppet. “You look nice enough anyway. My name is Jean-Louis.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I reply shaking hands with the puppet.

“Well, we’d better be going now,” the third says, “but we’ll be back, Dr. Alphabet.”

They disappear into the crowd, which at this point is begtinning to diminish. The noon hour is nearing an end. I had thought that things would quiet down at one o’clock.

“Is everything okay, Dave?” says Orville in a quiet, cautious voice.

“Yeh, fine, Orv. I don’t think there’ll be any trouble. The only place there might be is in front of the bars.”

“Well, I got another guy here who’s gonna be watching, too, so don’t worry.”

“I won’t.”

I had asked Orville to help with this marathon when I’d first began planning it about two months ago. He is an ex-seargent from the army who fought in Korea. “Went over with 39 men,” he likes to say, “and came back with 37. Ain’t many troop leaders who had that good a record.” He had helped with the other marathons by taping paper and getting cigarettes and coffee for me. He’s about 50 or so, always drinking, forever smoking. He’s about 5’5”, dresses sloppily, old clothes, etc., five-o’clock shadow, nicotine-stained lips and teeth, scars on his forehead, short-cut hair combed back and greasy. A very nice guy when you know him, and I seem to know him vbery well. He likes the marathons!

“When I write this poem in October, I might need your help. You know, for taping and also in case anyone causes any hassle. I’ll be wearing my alphabet outfit and someone might try to steal my hat or something.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll be there. I’ll take off work.”

I saw him a couple of times in the week before the writing and reminded him. Finally, I told him the day before that he’d better be there to help.

“Oh, I’ll be there right at noon. If anybody gives you any trouble, I’ll break their neck.”

“Orville had fully taken up the responsibility to be my body-guard all day. He stayed with me for almost all that time. He’d eyeball people that approached me. He’d tell people that he knew were my friends that he was keeping an eye on the crowd to make sure nothing happened to me. In fact, he’d told some people that he’d heard there was the possibility of an assassination plot against me! Still, I didn’t think there’d be any trouble with Orville. Basically he’s a loveable person who can be mean only as a last resort. He likes to talk tough more than anything. Though he can definitely be tough. He used to be a bouncer at The Carousel Inn in Coraville.

“He really isn’t much of a help with taping,” said Joyce. “I hope you don’t count on him doing that all day.”

“He’s a watcher from now on,” I said.

Joyce was copying down what I wrote on some looseleaf paper that she’d attached to a clip-board. That way, even if they poem were torn down at any parts, I’d still have a record of what I’d written.

“Today is all days in the city of words, where the people talk in all the voices under the sun.”

How true! That was the first sentence of the poem. It took up maybe 25 feet going down the street from Lind’s Art Supply and across Catherine’s Gift Shop, etc., moving along. But the truth of it lies in the fact that there were so many voices and people that it’s hard to remember what happened, was happening, might’ve happened, didn’t happen. These memoirs won’t capture 1/1000 of what went on during the poem. But it’s the thought that counts. And the feeling.

“Are you coming in for your pizza now?” asked Michael, one of the owners of Dirty Doug’s. He’d offered me a pizza when I first asked him if I could tape the paper to the front of his place. He said he wanted to get a picture of himself and Dr. Alphabet eating there.

“In a little while,” I said. “I’m just getting into the poem right now--but soon maybe. I’m not really hungry yet.”

“Okay. I’ve got it made.”
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“Oh. Well, I’ll try to be in sometime in the next few mintutes.”

There were so many things going on, so many people walking around, and so many words that, well, I forgot to go back and get the pizza till later in the day, and by that time Michael had gone home. So I told the waitress that I might come in after the marathon. But, I didn’t.

“Where are the buttons? And the wooden nickels?” asked Sue Naaktgeboren, a friend of mine who worked at Hamburg Inn #1. She’d taken the day off to help with the poem. She made some jewelry out of the wooden nickels that I gave her in advance. One of the necklaces she made was very ornately woven out of about 10 nickels shellacked and attached in a kind of webbing that resemble the typ of thing Elizabeth Taylor might’ve worn as Cleopatra. Most of the jewelry consisted of pendants--one wooden nickel shellacked and attached to a string. She gave these to people who were helping with various aspects of the marathon day.

“They’re in a box at Lind’s, I think. Joyce, do you know where they are?”

“Yeh, I’ll show you where. Come on.”

They went to Lind’s to get the nickels. They returned with the box and with a newspaper pouch that Sue’d filled with nickels and buttons.

“Just give one button to each person, and also the nickels. But the buttons are limited. If people will wear them, then they’re welcome to them. That’s what they’re for.”

“Okay. I’ll just walk around and see who wants what.”

Some friends of mine had suggested that I sell the Poetry City Buttons, because they cost $103 for 500. So I told them it’d be too much of a hassle. Also, it was more fun to give them away. The next question would be, “Where’d you get the money--The Arts Council?” and I’d reply, “No, they didn’t give me anything. Joyce contributed $100, my mom contributed $100, and I supplied the third $100.” and they’d say, “What for?” and I’d answer, “For fun!”

Paul Ingram, who lives next door to me above the Englert Theater, was interviewing people on the street with my tape recorder. He’d suggested the idea as an extension or an expansion of the whole multi-media event of this marathon. He has the perfect voice and manner for getting people to respond easily to the most surprising questions. I’ve listened to the resulting cassette tape only once. It’s really amazing how the people for the most part not only enjoyed what was going on but also were really think about it on so many levels.

“What do you think of the poem that Dr. Alphabet is writing, sir?”

“I think it’s great. We ought to have more things like it. It reminds me of the old Iowa City.”

“You mean back in ’67?”

“Oh, back in ’71 or ’72.”

“Why? What dfoes this make you think of that happened back then?”

“People were doing more things then.”

“I see. Well, thank you very much, sir.”

A lot of the responses were simple “I like it”’s or “Great”’s or “It’s differentj”’s, etc. Some of the negative responses were just mild, “I think it’s stupid.” There was one response that I remember overhearing, but when I listened to the tape it apparently wasn’t completely recorded.

`”Sir, what do you think of this poem around the block”?”

“Terrible! Terrible!”

“Thank you,” said Paul taken by surprise at such openness. “But why do you think it’s terrible.”

“Well,” the man replied. “First the city spends $88,000 on all those junk sculptures. And now this!”

I thought I’d better straighten him out on the monetary situation. I walked up to him in my alphabet outfit. H
e was one of those Iowa Citians that must’ve been here when the town was less overtaken by students and counter-culture people. He was maybe 55, slightly balding, wearing a windbreaker of green or tan, maybe 60.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said as he passed me, “I’m not getting any money for doing this poem.”

He stopped, looked at the poem, looked at me, anf replied, “Terrible! That’s terrible! They ought to give you something!”

I could tell this was going to be an incredible day. I had thought in the days leading up to this marathon that it would blow people’s minds to see an entire city block wrapped in paper. I figured that I could get done in six hours easily enough, as long as the paper-tapers got the paper up. Steve Toth and Jeannie Scott had taped from Lind’s to the corner (1/2 block long) and around the corner for another ½ block. As I rounded the corner, I wrote the word “TURN” on the edge. It was one of those things that you can’t tell whether it was intentional or coincidental.

“You’d better slow down,” said Joyce, “or you’ll finish too soon.”

So I started writing in letters that were about 3”-high rather than foot-high. (Actually, I did the change before rounding the corner. But in recalling the events of this day, they are bound to convolute, conflict, and confuse themselves with each other in my mind. Oh, well. That’s the way it goes in Poetry City.)

As for the poem I was writing, it moved strangely across the paper. It was getting out of my control. In fact, I had no idea what I was saying or where my words were going. I could only hope that they made sense to the readers. The poem was getting a life of its own, but whether I wanted it to have that life is another matter.

“I read everything up to here. I like what you’ve written.”

“Great! I don’t even know what I’ve written.”

At least some people liked it. I don’t remember anyone walking up to me and saying, “I don’t like what you’ve written and I wished that I hadn’t read it!”

One change that I made at the beginning seemed to change the course of the entire poem. I was putting characters in, and one of the characters was called Proseoperson. After a few more words, I realized that Proseperson wasn’t what I wanted, so I returned to where I wrote the name and crossed it out. In its place I put “a crazed numerologist.” It makes one wonder if maybe God had originally put a guy named Jethro in the Garden of Eden, then had second thoughts and stuck Adam in instead. There’s so much in a name, as Joyce Holland knows.

The sidewalk was less crowded at this point. The only thing happening to interest people was the poem. As I wrote past The Best Steak House, I noticed that the people inside were getting a kick out of being inside a poem as it’s being written by a guy dressed up in an alphabet outfit. One couple, though, was trying to act as if everything was normal.

“This is weird,” said a friend of mine pointing to the couple. “You’re out here writing and they’re in there eating and trying to ignore you writing just a few inches away.”

In the poem, I had thought that the characters would land their airplane in Poetry City. Then I would describe what it was like for them in that mythical place. So I wrote, “Next stop Poetry City!” Alas, the best laid plans o’ mice and men, as Paul would say. The plane never made it to Poetry City. The numerologist orders the pilot to turn around and head elsewhere.

`”Where should I have them go?” I asked.

At times like this, it was good to have people around to ask for ideas. I did that a bunch of times during the day. Joyce provided the most ideas for the poem, and Paul gave me a lot of words, too.

“Should they land in Atlantis, Ia.?” asked Joyce.

“That’s a good idea.”
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“How about Two-Kinds-A-Cheese, Wisc.?” Paul suggested.

Joyce and I laughed. It seemed like the perfect place for a crazed numerologist to want to go. I write it. A few minutes later, someone comes up to me and wants to know if I’m cheatingi.

“I heard from someone else that people are telling you what to write, but I told that person that you use your own ideas.”

“Well, I don’t mean to sound like a thief of words, but people have been helping me with the poem. That’s part of it. If someone’s got something for the poem and it’s better than what I could think of, then I’ll gladly use it.”

“Oh! YEh, I guess that’s olkay. But you don’t have the whole thing all written ahead of time, do you?”

“No, what’d be the point of that. It’d be impossible to guess how long to make it anyhow.”

The sidewalks were more deserted than ever. A few people were watching. The one thing that I’d wondered about was where were the other people who said they’d help. I still had the sandwich boards.

“Joyce, where are the boards?”

“They’re in Lind’s.”

“I’m going to get them. Maybe somebody’d like to wear them.”

We went to Lind’s and picked up the two pairs of sandwich boards. They were colorful signs advertising the whole thing of this day.

On the front, each,






and on the back,







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I made them out of stiff cardboard that I’d drawn the lettering in pencil and then spray-painted in bright red, blue, yellow, silver, etc., to provide a very circusy type (thought not completely) look to them. They did have a feeling all their own, more of a festive look than a clownish look--at least I think that’s the effect they had. But, when I brought them out and asked some of the people, like Steve Toth, if they’d wanted to wear them, they said no. So I laid them against the wall of the Best Steak House. At least people walking by could look at them. And maybe someone would want to wear them.

At this point, the crowd began to fluctuate in size. I use the term “crowd” in the generic sense, ie. 2’s company & 3’s a crowd. And yet, it never got that low. Maybe down to 15 at the least, but then it started growing again. I don’t really recall that singly outstanding happening. It was sort of like walking down the street, only in a different dimension, so there are parallels between what was happening, what I was feeling, and what I was writing. It was a rare time.

I’ve begun hearing from friends that certain small things occurred all day that I either didn’t take part in or I forgot. During this beginning period, for instance, Randy, a friend of mine who lives with her boyfriend Lionel above Meyers Barbershop down from Lind’s Art Supplies, brought me a piece of cake.

“No thanks,” I said, according to her today (one week later), “It’ll make my teeth hurt.”

Also, I wasn’t that hungry. I turned down a pizza & forgot about it by the time Randy brought the cake. I vaguely remember the incident at this writing. It makes me realize that I’ve got to get things down before they disappear into the shadowy mists of the subconscious. Randy also said that I talked to a couple of little girls who came over to ask me what I was doing. They were at the marathon with their mother.

Steve T. and Jeannie S. returned from taping the paper. They reached the Dey building about ¾ the way down the block (Iowa Ave.) and were tired.

“We’ll wait till you catch up with where we’re at.”

“Okay. It’ll be awhile. What time is it.”

“About 1:20.”

“I still got lots of time.”

I was trying to pace myself so that I wouldn’t get too far behind or too far ahead. I wanted it to end at 6:00, since that was how the schedule went. Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater was planning on helping me end the poem with a special play they were preparing for the occasion.

“Would you like a cup of coffee, Dave?” asked Ann Connors, a woman who’d been in my third Action Studies poetry class.

“That’d be great,” I said, “I’ll take cream and sugar.”

She brought me a large cup of Burger Palace Coffee with cream & sugar in it. I set it on the outside windowsill of the Best Steak
House, which I was still in the process of writing around.

“Don’t you want any?” asked Joyce.

“Yeh,” I said, “but I’m going to let it cool off first.”

Ann left. I never did get that cup. For all I know it’s still sitting on the windowsill, a monument to marathon forgetfulness. No, come to think of it, Joyce picked it up later in the day and threw it out somewhere.

While I was writing past Burger Palace, a couple of high-school girls in a booth looked out and waved. I had seen one of them around before, and later in the day, after the marathon, she helped take the paper down. One of the waitresses came out as I wrote past Burger Palace’s door and asked me what I was doing. I wonder how many people didn’t know.

“I’m writing a poem.”

“Oh,” she said. “I saw all that paper up and I couoldn’t figure out what it was for.”

As the afternoon progressed, the poem crept across the store fronts, led by the mighty magic marker attached to the point of my cane. It was running out of ink, though, and soon I would have to succumb to the use of the emergency pen in my pocket. I wouldn’t be able to use the cane.

The poem was getting more spaced out, both visually and verbally. I began writing the words in a curving line that dipped and rose like a graph,

something like these words go up and down. [The italicized words were printed in a zigzag pattern on the original typewritten version.] It provided variety and it influenced what I wrote about.

“…so the plane landed in a haystack in Atlantis, Ia. ‘Your days are numbered!’ the skyjacker screamed, but the pilot replied,….” someone read up to where I was writing. “Hey, Dr. Alphabet, what did the pilot say?”

“I don’t know.”

Paul walked over with the cassette recorder.

“I see that Dr. Alphabet seems to be at a loss for words. What’s the trouble, Doctor. Need some new syllables. I’ve been asking people for their favorite words. A couple of them said you could use their words in your poem. Try7 fitting in ‘love’ and ‘maybe’.”

“Ah, those are two common, though very important, words. I’ll try to use them.”

“Sir, do you have a favorite word,” Paul said to a passer-by.

“Yeh,” the man replied (a student I imagine), “Columbian.”

“You hear that, Dr. Alphabet. His word is “Columbian.”

“Yeh, that’s a good word, too. But right now I’ve got to figure out what the pilot says.”

` “How about, ‘Your days are alphabetized’?” asked Paul.

“Great!” I said. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“How about, ‘Your name is alphabetized’?” Joyce said.

“That’s it!” I said, and wrote.


I must say that the experiences of this day were not so much linear as they were kaleidoscopic (or fragmented, but in a rhythmic way). The day began with an explosion of poetry, namely with Joyce’s reading, the crowd, my outfit, the newsmen, the crowd, the city, the weather, and the crowd. Everything seemed to be coming together. Then, at 1:00, the lull for awhile. I thought the lull would continue till 5:00. Then, with people getting off work, the lull would go away, to be replaced with the wild energy of the various drama groups till the end of the poem. Well, I was very wrong, thank goodness. Shortly after 1:30 or so, things began to happen, but that’s for the next section of the story. Right now, I’d like to list & talk about a few things that continued to occur throughout the day, superimposed over the once-only activities and moments that made the day so fantastic.

To begin with, people now and then would walk up to me and say, “Why are you writing this?”

I would reply, “Because it’s fun. I like to.”

Or I would say, “It’s part of the sculpture festival.”

I guess I could’ve given a much more clever answer, but the question was such a simple (and yet difficult in a way) one, that I wanted to answer most directly (“it’s fun”) or most practically (“sculpture festival”).

Throughout the day, Orville, my protector, was always within 25 feet of me, except for a coup-le times when I gave him money to get a beer. I heard later that he’d walk up to people who talked to me and asked them if they knew me. Then he’d tell them that he was watching out for my safety. If it weren’t so comical, I would’ve worried about him offending people, but they took it as part of the general theater that the sidewalks had become.

“I got some people here,” Orville would say. “There won’t be any trouble.”

Or, “My friend’s watching for anybody to start something up. Don’t you worry,” he’d tell me.

“I’m not. I know you mean what you say.”

At various times, people would ask me for buttons or wooden nickels. I’d tell them to find someone who was handing them out.

“No one’s around.”

“Sue should be here somewhere. She’ll give you one.”

People would ask me how I was doing. They’d say they liked the alphabet outfit. Thuey seemed to get off on calling me Dr. Alphabet. Some called me Mr. Alphabet, and I corrected them. Little kids really enjoyed the whole thing.

People would tell me that I was going too fast or too slow. That I would finish too early or too late.

People would say they enjoyed the day, the event, the poem.
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One of the greatest things: When I walked down the street in that alphabet outfit, people would smile at me. And I’d smile back. It was such a nice and natural thi8ng. To think that I was afraid they wouldn’t get off on the outfit. I was exactly wrong. It made me someone they didn’t have to worry about smiling at.

I kept stopping the writing to talk to people I knew. I saw so many of them all around the block. And I met new people.

Another one of the greatest things: The block was becoming a real entity, not just a vague thing that people considered as a means to an end, walking. The block was reality. It was where things could happen any moment, not just where people could walk. The poem tied the buildings together, but the block was the stage from which people became what they are, sidewalk actors. The poem gave people a reason to just stand around on the block, whether to read or to talk or to listen to the entertainment. They didn’t have to rush through the block. They didn’t have to even move! They could just be.

But there’s more…

Part III


The Sugar Plum Fairies appeared while I was about half-way down the Iowa Ave. side of the block. They were wearing white T-shirts with “Sugar Plum Fairies” written in silver glitter on the front and with a beatnik-bearded Mickey Mouse stenciled or drawn in black on the back. They wore Mouseketeer caps. They were a group of five gay men and two women. One of the women, Sue N., was the person who’d made the wooden nickel jewelry and who’d been passing out the buttons. She was still handing out the buttons, wearing two of them, one over each breast.

I had heard that the Sugar Plum Fairies wanted to do a queen show called Hollywood Hots during the marathon writing. The problem, though, was that technically all the performers on the sidewalks had to be cleared with the city. At least, that was what I should’ve done with any groups that wanted to do anything. But it’s just such a job doing things by the book--so much red tape. So I got permission for three things, my writing, the Eulenspiegel Puppeteers, and Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater. I told other groups as I ran into them, figuring the city wouldn’t get angry so long as everyone was having a good time. And the police wouldn’t arrest a group for performing unless they were tearing the place up. No problems as long as no complaints. However, the Sugar Plum Fairies and their drag show could generate a complaint or two. They told Joyce that they would do something else, some dancing.

They set up a record player on the sidewalk, then played some rock ‘n roll. They taped a large white bed-sheet (10’ x 10’?) with a huge drawing of Mickey Mouse with the beat beard to the front of the Dey Building. They began dancing in a chorus line. And the people began gathering in larger numbers. I wrote down the storefronts behind them. I was glad to see them getting a good audience.

But I might be getting ahead of myself. I’m not sure, as I said before, that I’ve got the right order. I find myself remembering things in terms of which side of the block they happened on. Thus the day is divided into four parts, with one of the parts divided in half, the first half occurring at the beginning of the day, and the last half occurring at the end. Very symmetric. A mathematicians delight. But confusing to get the proper chronology. One of them, Howie Weinberg, stood on the sidewalk playing acoustic to a group of about 10 people gathered there. The other joined him, and they played duets for awhile (I think).

“Could you write something in your poem about John Gzorp running for City Council, Dr. Alphabet?” asked Ardis Katzenmeyer, a good friend of mine whom I’d originally met when she attended my second Action Studies poetry class.

“Sure, but I don’t know how it’d fit in right now. You can write anything you want on any part of the poem that I’ve already written on. Here, here’s a magic marker. Help yourself.”

She took the marker, left, returned a short while later, thanked me, and asked me if I’d like some M & M’s candy to give out to people.

“That’d be great,” I said.

I had thought about handing out candy, but I couldn’t figure out what’d be the best kind to give. There’s a candy bar called Marathon, but each bar costs 15¢ apiece. You can’t get 2¢ bite-sized Marathon bars either. Thus, M & M’s would be perfect for Dr. Alphabet to distribute to the hungry masses milling around the words.

“I’ll go get some for you.”

She was gone for about 20 minutes, during which I wrote another twenty feet. When she returned, she was out of breath, like a true marathon runner.

“Here they are. I had to go to three stores before I found one that sold M & M’s.”

It was a big package of M & M’s with peanuts.

“Thanks a lot, Ardis.”

The people didn’t look all that hungry.

“You’re welcome.”

But people always like candy.

“I’ll give them out right now.”

I opened the package, careful not to spill any.

“Free M & M’s. Would you care for an M.”

He took one. So did she.

“Anyone want an M here.”

More gone down the hatch.

“Howie, want an M or two?”

He didn’t.


I didn’t eat any either. I haven’t eaten an M for years. I don’t care that much for chocolate. Too sweet for my taste buds. And yet I like the letter M very much.

At 2:30 or so, Pat, one of the Hamburg Inn Waitresses, brought her troop of 21 girl scouts to see the writing. They were all wearing wooden nickels taped to their dresses for identification. Pat had asked me for buttons, but I told her there might not be enough. Fortunately, the girl scouts were all w2earing buttons. They were so curious about what I was doing, and they were excited to be on such a weird field trip.

“I’m glad they all got buttons.”

“Oh, yeh, there were enough, so Sue gave them each one.”

The girl scouts crowded around me to help with the p;oem. Pat stood in the back loading her camera with film. I asked the girl scouts what they wanted me to write about.

“’The hostess had just finished picking--’” I read aloud. “What should I have her picking?”


“Yeh, pickles!” another girl agreed.

I wrote PICKLES and asked what next.

“She finished picking pickles off the hotdog,” someone suggested.

“Off the clouds,” another yelled.

“That’s it,” I agreed. “The hostess had just finished picking pickles off the clouds.”

The girls were getting into it.

“What’s going on outside the airplane?” I asked.

“The birds are flying through the clouds!”

“No, wait!” I said. “How about, The birds are flying like hamburgers!”

“YEHHHHH!” they cheered and laughed at the line.

“The birds are flying like hamburgers after the pickles--” said one.

“--over McDonald’s.” added another.

“Put rock ‘n roll in it,” a third yelled.

“YEH!” a fourth agreed.

“And wooden nickels!” a fifth suggested.

“Okay, how about, ‘They played rock & roll while throwing wooden nickels at the birds.”

“YAYYYYY!” they cheered.

“The birds were their enemies,” said a sixth.

“--at the birds who were their enemies,” I replied.

They shouted a number of other ideas, which I would’ve included, but Pat said that she wanted to get some photographs of the girl scouts with Dr. Alphabet.

“Okay, girls, get in a close group in front of Dr. Alphabet and look at the camera and smile.”

They clustered in front of me while Pat snapped a couple of pictures. I pointed my cane over their heads toward the camera.

“Hey! How about everyone grabbing the alphabet cane for a picture,” I said as I held it within their grabbing distance.

“I wanna wear your hat, Dr. Alphabet,” one of the girls said.

“I don’t think it would fit you,” I said, “And I have to wear it because it goes well with the rest of my outfit.”

I’ve had experiences with kids and the alphabet hat. When I wrote the poems at Grant Wood Grade School for the 2nd through 6th grade classes, the kids all wanted to try on the hat. I let them, but it got out of hand. They didn’t want to give it back. They wanted to keep trying it on. And so many of them kept asking that the teacher put it on top of a cabinet. Then, when I wasn’t looking, one of the fourth grade boys climbed up on a chair and a book or something and grabbed the tophat anyway.

“Okay, girls, c’mon. Let’s get going. Our hour’s up.”


Say goodbye to Dr. Alphabet.”

“Wait! I want to get his autography. Here, Dr. Alphabet, could you sign this for me.”

She handed me her wooden nickel. Using the widetipped magic marker that I was writing the poem with, I put my initials, DM.

“Here. That’s all that’ll fit.”

Another girl handed me her wooden nickel and a sheet of paper.

“Put your initials on the nickel and your whole name on the paper!”

Paul Ingram walked over with the tape recorder and asked three or four of the girls what they thought of Dr. Alphabet.

“He’s nice.”

“He writes good poems.”

“I like helping him write.”

Or something along those lines. As Paul said later, “Can you imagine the memories those girls are going to have for the rest of their lives about this day. God! They’ll remember yelling words to this guy completely covered with letters of the alphabet, and seeing him write a poem on a sheet of paper taped around a block.”

When I’d first begun asking the kids for ideas, my mom came up to me and asked if it bothered me to have them all around.

“Doesn’t it interfere with your writing?”

“Oh, no. It helps. It makes it even more fun.”

And it did. I really enjoyed seeing them so excited about getting their words into the poem. It was the same way at Grant Wood Grade School, only on an even larger scale since I asked them for topics to write short poems.

“What should I write about now?”

“Write about a fire truck!”

“No, write about the Hawks.”

“Write about purple-land.”

When I wrote about someone’s suggestion, that child would cheer.

“Put ‘says John’ under it,” said John, the child whose idea I used.

Back to the block, though. Pat told them that it was time to go. Where they were going I wasn’t sure, but they seemed to have a time deadline to meet. Pat told me she’d be back, then told the kids again to say goodbye.

“Good-bye, Dr. Alphabet.”

Sunlight glistened on the wood fence that surrounded the corner of the sidewalk at Iowa Ave. and Clinton St. It was still a little chilly in the shade. There was Urban Renewal construction blocking off the building, so Steve and Jeannie taped paper around the fence. The day was becoming more festive as the music and the dancing got underway. The guitarists. The Sugar Plum Fairies dancing. All sorts of people bouncing around, talking to each other, enjoying the 60-65° partly cloudy weather. Lots of people. They were getting used to the idea that today was a little bit different than other days.

“You’re running behind. It’s 3:00,” said Joyce.

“Well, it’s time to speed up and move the words down the block.”

I wrote in faster, larger letters, zipping along to the temporary fence, across the planks to the street. The Sugar Plum Fairies were dancing beneath the bearded Mickey Mouse. They formed a single chorus line and danced in unison, forward and backwards, or they danced various couple dances, such as The Bump. They’d been a little worried that someone might give them trouble or even start a fight because they are gay. They seemed to feel more at ease, though, the longer they danced without any sight of “queer-beaters.” I noticed three guys standing in front of the Dey Building who looked like they were sizing up the situation. They seemed to be chuckling and making jokes about the dancing, but that’s all the farther they went. They were dressed in business suits, and there were too many people around, too.

“It’s chilly here.”

“I know. Just a few more feet and we’ll be in the sunlight.”

The next thing I knew, we were in the sunlight. It was warmer and more festive with all that yellow and bright addition to things. A few more people from my Poetry Class for People over 60 came up. Elizabeth and Oscar Hajos, who hadn’t made it to the class earlier, were standing in the street talking to my mom.

“I’m glad you could make it.”

“We almost didn’t, because we were out of town. When we drove back in, we didn’t know you were writing because we didn’t see the poem on the buildings. But I said to Oscar, ‘Let’s park and walk over. Maybe we’ll find him.’ Then when we got over here, we saw it.”

Two more women from the class showed up next.

“I’ll take your picture with them, Dave.”

My Mom snapped a few photos of me in my alphabet outfit standing next to the three women and one man with my arm around a couple of the women. It was probably one of many strange pictures that were snapped by many people during the day.

“One thing I noticed during the marathon,” a friend of mine said later, “I’ve never seen so many cameras in Iowa City before. Regular photo cameras, video outfits, movie cameras. There should be a lot of pictures from it all.”

I’ve since found out that. I’m hoping to get some pictures from various people, just to have a photo collection of that day as seen from different points of view.

“Do you know that you’re starring in a movie?” asked my French teacher, Andre Prevos, just yesterday morning when I got to class.

“Oh, really,” I chuckled, not knowing what he was talking about, especially at 8:30 in the morning.

“You are,” said Toni, a classmate. “A woman in my film class made a 6 minute movie documenting the marathon day. She’ll probably be showing it in the next month or so.”

`”I hope I can attend the premiere.”
It’s things like that that remind me of the curving aspect of time and space. Since the marathon, that day hasn’t really ended. It continues to come back in so many odd ways. I won’t even be thinking about it, and somehow it’ll pop up. I can’t just tell the story from noon till 6:00, as it occurred, A then B then C. It’s more like A then X then Q then A then F then B the A the D, missing C completely.

“Hey, Dave! Somebody is out tearing down your poem from the Best Steak House. He works there.”

“Huh! Why’s he tearing it down? We’ve gotten permission from them to do it.”

I started walking down there.

“Orville. Could you--”

Orville wasn’t anywhere around.

“It’s okay,” someone else said. “We explained that you had permission and now the guy’s trying to tape it back up.”

Orville was walking up from that direction.

“Where’s some tape? Someone tore some of your poem down.”

That was the first of two incidents of poem removal. The next occurred on the third side of the block (while this is the second side still). I was writing on--but wait, that’ll come up in its own good time.

The spot on which I was writing, the wooden wall, extended out to the curb. There were wooden saw horses forming a transitional sidewalk in the street. The cars had to drive slowly through the narrower area that was left for them; the pedestrians had to walk in two single files from both directions to get through the bottle-neck. Thus, some stood on the other side of the saw horses so they could watch the writing without blocking other people, only cars. I wasn’t writing too fast because I’d just reached the sun. The day was becoming so enjoyable--why rush it?

“‘We are about to land in Proseville.--’” someone read as they approached my magic marker. “Hey, don’t stop now. What happens next.”

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “I’ll try to figure it out in a minute.”

Elizabeth H. asked me how I could write and talk at the same time. Joyce said later that someone had asked her why I wasn’t writing all the time.

“Why does he just stand around talking.”

“He’s taking a break.”

Then Orville would ask if they knew me.

“Yes,” they’d reply if they did.

“Well I’m looking out for him,” Orville would say. “Nobody’s going to cause him any trouble today. I got some other people who’re watching, too. They’re around here.”

Except for the fact that it was funny to hear about later, I wished that he didn’t do that. I maybe shouldn’t’ve asked him to help in that way but just stuck to the typing, though Joyce--well, enough about it. He was there, and there he was, a part of the whirlpool of words that surrounded the block, carrying everyone into the poem, the day, the writing, the alphabet, the sidewalk, the paper, the stores, the city. Also, I like Orville. And his name sounds like a city--Orville, Proseville, Andville.

“Here, Orv, why don’t you go get yourself a beer,” I said, slipping him a dollar.

“Thanks. I’ll be gone for just five minutes. That’s all. No longer.”

He left. Five minutes later, I noticed Orville standing on the periphery of a 25 foot radius imaginary circle. Just watching for any trouble.

Another flashback. Before the Sugar Plumbers started dancing, Allan Kornblum showed up and asked me if I’d like to go somewhere and have a cup of coffee.

“I’d like to, but I have to keep writing.”

“I’ll have a cup of coffee with you somewhere, Allan,” said Joyce.

They left for about a half hour or so. Then Alice Gratke, another woman in my over-60 writing class, asked my mom and Jeannie to go have something to eat. They left, too.

“We’re going into Hamburg Inn.”

Then, just before the Girl Scouts got there, Jacquee, Jeannie S.’s roommate, asked to interview me for National Public Radio. She’d told me she was going to a few days before when I met her in the mini-park next to the Blackhawk Mural.

“I recorded the very beginning of the day’s events, including Joyce’s reading. That was fantastic.”

“I thought I saw you in the front holding the microphone.”

“I’m getting material to put together for the Cedar Rapids radio and also for All Things Considered, which is a national program.”

“I know. I’ve listened to it before. Well, what do you want to find out?”

“First, let me give a little introduction on the tape, and then I’ll ask you some questions.”

She described the day’s events, including the drama groups, the puppeteers, the poetry readings and writing.

“And I’m speaking to Dr. Alphabet, alias Dave Morice. Dr. Alphabet, woujld you describe your outfit for me.”

I did.

“Where did you get the idea for Dr. Alphabet to come to life, costume and all?”

“Last summewr, a year ago, I got a letter from someone in Muscatine, Ia., asking me if I’d write a poem during the annual Great River Days festival on the Mississippi River. I told thjem yes, and during the next couple weeks, we’d decided on the event. It was to be called Dar. Alphabet’s Medicine Show. For it, I painted this outfit and made the tophat. I went to Muscatine with Joyce Holland and wrote a poem on adding machi9ne tape and wrapped her in it from head to toe. Then I titled her, “The Muscatine Mummy.”

“How about telling us about this poem around the block.”

I told her something. I don’t remember what, but since then she said she’d give me a copy, a dub, of the tape. I heard that, so far, the tape was played on KXIC of Iowa City the day after the marathon. Then five days later it was played on the Cedar Rapids Station as part of a program cvalled “The News Plus 20”. Jacquee told me the other night after a performance of Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater at Gabe & Walker’s, a local bar, that she was hoping to get an answer from All Things Considered soon.

“How can I get ahold of you to let you know?”

“I live above the Englert Theater. Just go into the door to the right of the theater. The door has the words MOD POD painted on either side of the doorway. My room’s on the third floor. If I’m not there, you can leave a message in my mailbox, just inside the door.”

Toward the end of that interview2, I saw Pat and the Girl Scouts massing around us. Jacquee finished talking to me, then asked a couple of the G.S.’s what they thought about the event. And I started asking the G.S.’s for words for the poem.

Sometime during the writing on that side of the block, the North side (I just realized that each side of the block can be called by each of the four directions. In that case, I began on the East side. Then went to the North, where I’m at.), two of the Sugar Plum Fairies, Michael and Randy, put on the sandwich signs that I’ve described earlier. They took some buttons and nickels and walked around in the signs, passing out the souvenirs. Things were really beginning to go into full swing.

Including my tophat. I had to keep readjusting it all throughout the day. It hurt my forehead, my ears, and whatevber else it rested on too long. I made it out of heavy cardboard, covered with muslin material, and painted with acrylics. The cardboard was so heavy and rigid, and the fit so precise, that I had a headache wearing it. I wanted to take some aspirins, but I forgot. I was still so involved in the writing, that I forgot about the ache caused by the hat. Even now, I don’t remember it as being very bad. It was just there, so I wore it with the hat.

“Here, Dr. Alphabet, I brought you a piece of cake,” said Randy, the friend of mine who lived who lives with her boyfriend above Meyer’s Barber Shop. --oops! I already wrote about The Piece of Cake on page 26. Well, that’s what you call over-remembering. But what am I forgetting?

“Could I bring in the alphabet chair and the 100-foot poem and put it in the window, Marge?”

“Sure! There’s just paper up there now.”

The Lind’s window was reserved for displaying different works of art, or different art supplies, or both. I’d had a display of the marathon poems there about a year and a half ago in conjunction with the writing of the Mile Long Poem on Jan. 15, 1974. The window is maybe 12 feet long, 8 feet high, glass (of course) with the word Lind painted in gigantic blue letters across the entire store front, including the window. The letters were in outline so they didn’t block the view.

I went back to my place, got the alphabet chair and the 100-foot poem, and arranged it in the far right side of the store window so that the chair held the poem draped over it and unrolled for the length of the window. This, of course, should’ve been noted in Part 1 of the story, because I put them in the window before going to the class at 11:00.

I sped up my writing so I could get around the temporary fence at the corner of Iowa and Clinton. The paper-tapers had gone all the way around, taping where they could, till they reached solid wall again. The fence enclosed an area of sidewalk that construction workers had been laying cement on. I wrote fast, large poetry around the corner and stopped for a rest in front of Iowa Book & Supply. I had reached the West Side of the Block. It was a whole new world!
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When I reached solid sidewalk again, I took a break in order to relax and talk to whoever wished to talk. Some more of thje people from my class walked up to me. I introduced them to my mom & Jeannie. Specifically, it was Fanny Blair and Ann McGeehee. Ann asked to take some pictures of me, and Fanny8 asked Ann to pose with me. So we spent the next few minutes snapping the snapshots.

There were thousands of people all around, some walking past us on the sidewalk, some going down other sidewalks, and bery many7 were crossing the Pentacrest across Clinton St. Everyone was enjoying the sunlight. It was one of those dream days, weather-wise especially, as I’ve said. Poem-wise, it was equally similar, as far as I was concerned.

It’s been about five days now since I finished Part 3, so another strata of memories of that day has vaporized. Anyway, onward.

“I’m going to have to get a new magic marker soon. This purple one doesn’t write too well, and the alphabet can marker is almost out of ink and the point is blunt.”

“Do you want me to get you one?” Joyce asked.

“We can both go. I’ve got to explain to Michael that I couldn’t get the pizza earlier. And I feel funny just walking down the street.”

“Really? Still?”

“Not completely. I’m used to it. It’s just that there’s new people walking by all the time, and they might not know what in the world is going on.”

We walked back to Lind Art Supply for the marker. Going down Washington Ave., I noticed that my outfit still had the power to attract attention. I found myself looking at people approaching me. They would almost always smile, no matter what they were! And I got used to smiling back.

The more I think about it, Joyce wasn’t with me when I went back (though if she’d been with me, it would’ve happened as I just described). Instead, I ran into her on the way back to the writing point. I’d gotten the magic marker from Lind’s.

“Help yourself, Dave. Gene isn’t here right now, so I’m the boss.”

I picked up two blue markers. Wide-tipped, like the ones I’d been using. Checked them out to make sure they’d write smoothly.

“Thanks, Marge.”

“Any time, Dr. Alphabet.”

Then I went to Dirty Doug’s to inquire about my pizza.

“Michael isn’t here right now. You can come in and get the pizza later today if you want. But he won’t be back till tomorrow.”

“Okay, I’ll be in after I finish writing.”

Never did make it back that day. At least not to eat the pizza. I did go in later to tell them another time. But, still Michael had made one at noon that never made it to anyone’s mouth. C’est la pizza!

A new magic marker is like a shaft of sunlight piercing through a week-long rain-storm that’s occurred during a vacation. So I was ready to let the words beam down to the page again. The surface on this side of the block was more complicated and intricate than anything I’d written on previously. For one thing, there were more windows and doors, more places in general. The paper-tapers were “going to town” getting the sheet attached as best they could, which was much better than I expected. The paper stuck to the walls at all points, that is, until…

` “Hey, Dr. Alphabet!” a woman’s voice shouted to me. “There’s some man tearing your poem down at the corner.”

The first real vandal!

“Hey, Orville,” my voice shouted at Orville. “Let’s go see why the guy’s tearing the poem down, and who!”

We marched down the street with the woman, who said this guy had ripped off about 100 feet from the wooden fence that I’d written around so quickly a few minutes ago.


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“I don’t know. We were just reading the poem, when he began tearing it off the fence. I tried to get him to stop. I said, ‘What are you doing that for, Mister?’ and he said, ‘This is a bunch of bullshit’ and we said, ‘But there are a lot of people who are enjoying the poem, and when you tear it down, we can’t read it!’ and he said again, ‘This is a bunch of bullshit!’ There’s the poem. I guess the guy stopped. Oh, there he goes! That’s the guy.”

The man who tore down the poem was a bent-over, reddish-nosed old Iowa City “character” whom I’d seen plenty of times before. I was really surprised that he was the tearer-downer, because I thought he was just one of those people who walked around and watched.

“Don’t bother with him, Orv.”

The man was probably 70 years old, and I didn’t think Orville would hassle him. At least not in a harmful way. But I thought I should tell Orv that there wasn’t any big deal.

“I’ll tell him he’d better not do anything else, or else!”

Before continuing the story, it should be noted that this single incident, more than anything else that happened in such a short time over such a short space that day has acquired a mythical quality, a controversial aspect, and a magical flavor. The single occurrence, Man Tearing Down Poem, has grown into a cosmic event that reverberates in people’s minds even still. It’s been exaggerated, distorted, condemned, and praised. It’s been called vandalism, crankiness, drunkenness, a happening, street theater, flipping out, a form of literary criticism.

As I watched the guy walk away, Larry Eckholt of the Des Moines register walked up to me.

“What happened? Did somebody start taking down the poem for you?”

“Yeh! He was…” I explained what had happened according to the woman who’d called me. Larry asked who he was. I said I didn’t know his name, but I’d seen him around. Larry asked where he was. I said I didn’t know, then I saw the guy, and I said, “There he is walking over there by the fence.” Larry followed him.

The next day Larry’s article appeared in the Register under the headline: ELDERLY CRITIC RIPS BLOCK LONG POEM. That headline was as unreal as the headlines in the marathon novel that I’d written a year earlier at Epstein’s bookstore. In it, the main character is Dr. Alphabet. That’s why writing these memoirs is such an amazing experience in itself. It seems like there’s a point at which reality and fantasy definitely mix, to form what can only be described as “fantity” or “realasy” or “things sometimes do happen the way we think they won’t”. Larry told me later that the Register was hesitant to print the story about the poem around the block, but with the added touch of conflict, it suddenly became a human interest feature, and the newspaper was more interested in using it. The Press-Citizen also used that as the focus of the caption beneath a picture of Dr. Alphabet writing on the wall.

Later that night, one of the TV stations that covered the marathon had this to say (in other words, though. I didn’t hear what the exact phrasing was): “Morice had hoped that the poem could remain up until the Governor’s visit Saturday to the sculpture dedication. However, an elderly man tore the entire poem down shortly after it was written. Morice plans on redoing the poem and taping it back up tomorrow.”
There are about four or five incorrections in the TV report. First, the man didn’t tear down any more of the poem after dark, just the fifty feet or so that he originally ripped. Second, part of my deal with the city was that I’d take it down after it was finished. Third, I certainly wouldn’t plan on taping it up again. That in itself would be quite a miraculously crazy thing to do. Fourth, the only thing I planned on doing tomorrow was resting. Sleeping, probably, since I’d be partying till late in the night.

The following noon news carried the confusion even further: “Morice plans on taping the poem up today.” At least, that’s what peop[le told me they’d heard on the news. I was busy sleeping.

Friends who heard about the incident, even people who I didn’t know but met in the following days, would mention it with different reactions.

“That was really rotten for the old man to tear down your poem.”



“That’s amazing that someone would actually rip up a part of the poem.”



“He must’ve been really drunk or crazy or something.”



“What a great happening that someone would be so involved that they’d pull your poem off the wall.”


I guess I changed my opinion about what had happened. At first I was wondering if he would continue, but he stopped. The more I thought about it, the less I thought about it. The day breezed on, and I forgot that it even happened until people reminded me about it. The next day when I saw the newspapers, I could read about the event as a fantastic moment in the poem. Thus, I would like to thank that man, whoever he is, for doing what he did, whyever he did it.

I went back to my work. The people by the torn portion of the poem began folding it up. Later I found out that a couple of friends re-taped it to the fence. The old man who did it wandered into the nearest bar, Joe’s Place, but didn’t tear off the portion of poem on the door. I guess he’d satisfied himself and now needed a drink.

Later, people speculated on why he did it, or they would ask me what I thought his reason was, or I’d guess in the middle of their speculation:

“He’s probably lived in Iowa City all his life. He saw it through the era in which the university was only a smaller part of things, to the days in which the u. began to take over as an economic, social, and political force. Then he saw the buildings being taken over by students during the late sixties, trashed and rioted around in the next 3 or 4 years, then ultimately destroyed by Urban Renewal. And now this, a piece of paper all around the block, with a poem on it! It must’ve been the straw that broke the camel’s back. As he himself said,

‘This is a bunch of bullshit!’”

My words curved around the store windows, across the doorways, where they were cut to allow people to go in and out, and beneath the faces looking out of The Airliner, another bar, this one located on this side of the block. I wondered how the people drinking in the Airliner’s window would respond to the poem. The window had a bunch of stools placed inside next to a bar arranged so that the drinkers could sit and watch people walking by on the sidewalk.

“Hey, what’s that guy in the alphabet outfit doing?” I imagtined them to be saying.

“This is crazy! He’s writing a poem! Let’s go out and spill beer on his adjectives.”

But I was wrong. They pointed at me. They smiled. They looked interested in a genuine way, not in a mocking way. So I smiled back. I continued writing. One of them came to the door.

“What’re you writing now?”

“Something about Proseville.”

“Oh! Where’s that?”

“In the poem, about 50 feet back.”

The Sugar Plum Fairies were still dancing to the music on the North side of the block. Orville came up to me and asked if the “Mouseketeers” (S.P. Fairies) should join me on this side of the block.

“They’ll attract a crowd over here.”

“Well, that’d be a good idea, except that this part of the block is the most automotive section. It might be too distracting to the drivers. I told the city that I wouldn’t create any hazard for drivers or pedestrians. Not that it would, but why not just tell the Mouseketeers to wait till I get to the South Side of the block, and then they could join me over there. I’ll hurry through this side, okay?”

“Yeh, that might be a good idea. I’ll tell them.”

I began writing bigger, wider, and faster. Since I could pace myself, it didn’t matter how far I got. I could slow down or speed up as seemed necessary. This part of the block wasn’t the best for sidewalk people. The South Side would be perfect, because it was closed off to cars because of Urban Renewal construction. I couldn’t continue too much further. The paper-tapers hadn’t finished attaching the paper to this entire side.

“I’ve got to take a break,” said Steve Toth.

“We’re almost done with the last 50 feet,” said Pat Dooley, an artist friend who had joined in the taping.

I decided to stand around some more, waiting for the paper to be ready, and I talked to various and sundry passers-by. A woman came around filming the event in Super-8. During this break, I first noticed her. She asked me to do something for the film, and I did. Soon after, the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theater people came by and went into another spontaneous interaction with people, including me. I tried to answer the puppets in my own human way.

“I like him! I know he likes me best, too!” said Mehitabel.

“Oh, no, he likes me. Don’t you, Dr. Alphabet?:” said Jean-Louis.

“Who do you like best?”

“Well, I’m not sure at this point. Let’s see…”

“I’ll recite a poem for you. Then you can decide on me!” said the persistent Mehitabel.

She did. I liked it. I told her that she was my true love. She nodded.

“I knew you would. Oh, Dr. Alphabet is so handsome.”

I took my alphabet cane and hung it on Mehitabel’s hook nose and said, “That’s why I like you best--because you make a good cane-holder.”

“Dr. Alphabet! Get your cane off my nose.”

Mehitabel, the puppet, was flustered by my action. The people around us enjoyed the mini-play sponsored by Poetry City and the Eulenspiegel Puppeteers. I removed my cane.

“Good-bye, sweetie,” said Mehitabel in her deep, rasping voice. “I’ll be back later!”

“Good-bye, Dr. Alphabet,” said Jean-Louis in his higher-pitched, louder voice.

Obviously, the words don’t capture the voices. Nor do they show the puppets. Or describe how Teri and Monica operated them. They were all dressed in colorful medieval costumes, and the humans operated the puppets by means of sticks attached to the hands and the head. When the puppets spoke (via the humans), their heads moved in gestures of yes and no, back and forth, etc., since their eyes and mouths were immobile, painted on, very humorous pixie faces. When the humans spoke, the puppets turned their heads toward them to listen. A difficult act to keep going, but they continued on down the block talking to whoever they felt like engaging in a puppet/human relationship. It was a word-event, a wondrous one.

“Good-bye,” I replied.

They danced down the street, all four of them, surprising people with their costumes, their lines, and their white-painted faces. By this time, the paper-tapers had finished the entire side of the block, so I continued writing with renewed verbalizations.
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~17. News about the Poetry City Marathon

Dr. Alphabet, David Morice of Iowa City, began

a poem that eventually stretched around a city block.

(Staff Photo)

And the Poetry

Seemed to Run

Around Town

By Miriam Brooks

Iowa City Correspondent

For Quad-City Times

Davenport-Bettendorf, Ia.

Fri., Oct. 10, 1975

IOWA CITY, Iowa – “And

here he is, ladies and gentlemen:

Dr. Alphabet!”

Out of Lind’s Art Supply

Store here popped a tall smiling

man wearing white pants, a white

T-shirt and a huge white top hat,

all covered with bright-colored

letters of the alphabet.

It was David Morice, an

Iowa City writer who is well-known

here for his “writing marathons,” in

which he has written a poem a mile

long at a local book store and created

fiction in public on the spot for an

entire day.

Thursday’s event was a poetry

marathon held as part of Iowa City’s

week-long dedication of the new

pieces of sculpture decorating the

city streets and mini-parks.

Morice’s task, which he called

“word sculpture,” was to write a

poem on a continuous piece of paper

attached to the buildings that make up

a full square block of the downtown

shopping area adjacent to the U of I


Morice, who has earned a

Masters degree in the Writer’s

Workshop; here, said he did not

prepare ahead of time for the

marathon. “I just write as I go along,”

he said, and estimated that the job

would last about six hours.

“I’m doing this for fun,” he

said. “And I’m doing it now because

I wanted to do it before winter comes

and it also is part of the sculpture

dedication festival.”

Morice, who has been calling

himself “Dr. Alphabet” for about two

years, also was distributing buttons to

the crowd that proclaimed Iowa City

to be “Poetry City, U.S.A.”

“I’ve thought of Iowa City as

being Poetry City for several years,”

he said, because there are so many

poets and writers here.”

To kick off the Marathon, Iowa

City poet Joyce Holland led the crowd

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in the “Poetry Cheer” and the

“Alphabet National Anthem” (the

letters of the alphabet sang to the tune

of the national anthem), and then

Morice began writing.

And during it all, a sidewalk

puppet show was being performed by

the Eulenspiegel Puppeteers and

musical acts, plays and variety acts

accompanied Morice on his route

around the block.

“Dr. Alphabet clearly was

having a good time writing with a

felt tip pen attached to his white

“alphabet cane” but admitted that the

job was taking him longer than

expected because so many people

interrupted him to talk.

“I can’t write and talk at the

same time,” he said. “But that’s okay,

I’ll just keep going till I’m finished.


A rational oasis

Dr. Alphabet (the former Dave Morice) wrote

another epic yesterday in downtown Poetry City

(the former Iowa City). This time the poem was

a block long, written on paper taped to the façade

of 47 stores. Dr. Alphabet was preceded by

the Sugar Plum Fairies (of which two are shown

above) who, according to one witness, appeared

out of nowhere.


Elderly ‘critic’ rips

block-long poem


Register Staff Writer

Des Moines Register

Fri., Oct 10, 1974

Iowa City, IA. – An

elderly vandal – or literary

critic – Thursday ruined poet

David Morice’s dream of

seeing in an entire city block

wrapped up in Morice’s

extemporaneous poetry.

At noon Thursday

Morice had begun writing his

“Word Sculpture” on a nearly

continuous strip of paper that

had been taped in the

downtown buildings bordered

by Dubuque, Iowa, Clinton

and Washington Streets in the

heart of Iowa City.

Rips Section

Morice was in the

process of writing the final

third of his latest opus when a

man, who appeared to be

about 70, began ripping to

shreds the portion of the poem

at the corner of Iowa Book

and Supply Co., across from

the University of Iowa


“This is a bunch of’

B.S.,” said the man as he tore

up Morice’s poem. People who

had been watching Morice

write pleaded with the man to

stop, but he just kept ripping.

The poetry event kicked

off a three-day sculpture

festival here that will culminate

Saturday with the dedication of

two permanent outdoor

sculptures purchased by the city

with public and private funds.

Lay in Gutter

Morice was unable to

patch up his poem and finish his

complete work by nightfall, so

the tattered pieces of his poetry

lay in the gutter with fallen

leaves and crushed soft drink


But Morice, Iowa’s “P.T.

Barnum of poetry,” was not

totally discouraged by the act of

vandalism since the day’s events

had been a source of creative

inspiration to him. While Morice

wrote, local folksingers,

pantomimist, puppeteers, actors,’

and others performed for scores

of people who lined the


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“Dr. Alphabet”

Using the pseudonym “Dr.

Alphabet,” Morice was dressed

in a colorful outfit that had been

imprinted with the letters of the

alphabet. His “Madhatter” top hat

and can were emblazoned with

alphabet letters.

Morice’s poem was

sanctioned by the city and the 45

businesses housed in the buildings

on which the monumental work

was written. Morice called it “the

ultimate Iowa City poem.”

“I thought it would be the

perfect thing for people to walk

down the street doing their daily

chores, and read poetry,” added


After exerting his rather

physical criticism of Morice’s

poem that lined the entry, this

time he did not tear it down,


Elderly critic

has his say

By Staff Writer

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Fri., Oct. 10, 1975

David Morice, Iowa City’s “P.T.

Barnum of Poetry,” drew curious

onlookers Thursday afternoon as

he wrote his “word sculpture”

encircling a downtown city block.

But his effort, intended to

produce what Morice called “the

ultimate Iowa City p[oem,” drew a

hostile response from one elderly

critic, who began ripping the poem

to shreds at the Iowa Avenu and

Clinton Street corner, just as

Morice, constumed as “Dr.

Alphabet,” neared the end of his

extemporaneous work.

“This is a bunch of B.S.,” said

the unidentified man, later seen

entering a nearby tavern.

The poetry even was at the start

of a three-day sculpture festival,

which is to end Saturday with

dedication of the two permanent

outdoor sculptures.


Everyone’s A Critic

Staff Writer

The Cedar Rapids Gazette

Cedar Rapids, Ia.

Fri., Oct. 10, 1975.

“This is a bunch of B.S.” With that, an unidentified, elderly man began ripping David Morice’s “Word Sculpture” to shreds. At noon Thursday, Morice (“Dr. Alphabet”) began writing his extemporaneous poetry on a nearly continuous strip of paper taped to a block of downtown buildings as part of a three-day sculpture festival. “I thought it would be the perfect thing for people to walk down the street, doikng their daily chores, and read poetry,” Morice said. His elderly critic, who later entered a nearby tavern, apparently didn’t agree. Morice had planned to spend six hours writing the massive poem.

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