Blog Post

An Afternoon of Poetry and Film: Nick Twemlow’s “Debutante Ball”

By: Hailley Fargo

New poetry professor Nick Twemlow stood at the front of a sizable crowd one afternoon in Hickok Hall and claimed his presentation was his own “debutante ball.” The audience chuckled, settling into Twemlow’s off-beat humor. Twemlow entertained his audience for an hour, showing his best work and its diversity. This presentation was truly a welcoming celebration for Twemlow, who recently joined Coe’s Creative Writing department.

To start, Twemlow showed us a short film, The Laying on of Hands. This was both a documentary and experimental film; it was composed entirely of found footage. The loose story line combined martial arts with the healing touch craze, spreading through churches. The use of found footage is always interesting because it relies almost entirely on the way the director cuts the footage. As I was watching the film, I wondered what footage was missing. The film began with an even distribution of karate moments and healing scenes but as it progressed, the focus seemed to shift towards the healing craze.

The lights came up and Twemlow launched into the poem section of his presentation. He read five poems, a combination of published poems and works in progress. He bookended this reading with two poems thematically connected, both about karate and his son. The middle section was included a requested poem, “Topeka,” from his first collection of poems Palm Trees. While he likes his book, he discussed the way in which it tires him out now. Twemlow talked about the new material he has started and read one of the poems he hopes to be in his new book, which will be all about his childhood in New Zealand. Then, he read a brand new poem, entitled “Finn,” about a cousin who had recently passed away. He was confident in front of the podium and seemed to have no fear of reading a work in progress. After he finished reading “Finn,” I was curious about what the poem will look like finished.

The last section of his presentation was a final short film. This was actually a film he produced in 2011 called The Trapper. The film began as a project for one of his MFA classes, and then he decided to collaborate with his writing partner (who later became the director). The story is based in Iowa and filmed entirely in the Iowa City area. Twemlow had a lot to say about the film before it began. Being a producer allowed Twemlow to analyze the film from new angles, and he still feels that the film isn’t completed yet. He did forewarn the audience before he started the film that the footage still freaks him out. Encouraging.

This was a great short film. I won’t ruin the ending, but it focuses on an odd sort of love triangle and animal traps. Twemlow was right that the footage was eerie. The film used music extremely well; the lyrics “let the bodies hit the floor” created tension both within the scene and in the film as a whole.

I enjoyed this performance because it allowed me to get to know Professor Twemlow better. I look forward to seeing what other poems and films he makes during his time at Coe. Welcome aboard!

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