The grass is greener

Robert Dana has inspired students, poets, Iowans, and numerous others over his career. To celebrate his distinguished achievements, Cornell College hosted “An Evening with Poet Robert Dana” on April 28, and made him an honorary alum on April 17. Senior Sarah Henson, however, may just be the first one to honor the venerable poet with grass.

Henson’s senior art project combined warm colors, dyed paper, and, most unmistakably, grass. It examined the connections between the natural world and language, and the interplay between nature and civilization. The project, which took Henson nearly the entirety of the school year to complete, was in part inspired by the poetry of Dana.

“Robert Dana’s poetry has assured me throughout my studies of the deep interrelation between language and landscape,” wrote Henson in her artist’s statement.

Web extra — view “An Evening with Poet Robert Dana”

Part of the reason Henson found Dana was that her parents, Stephen Henson ’71 and Judith Davids Henson ’71, were students of his in the 1960s. Henson was surprised and honored when Dana made an appearance at her opening. Dana said he found her work based on his poem “A Short History of the Middle West,” “witty and inventive.”

The two struck up a quick friendship, with Dana offering to write out “A Short History” in longhand on some of the paper Henson had created, and Henson offering to help Dana find the big bluestem grass she had used in her materials. A few days later, at Dana’s celebration on April 28, Henson was even invited to the English department’s dinner with the Poet-In-Residence emeritus.

“An Evening with Poet Robert Dana” celebrated his distinguished career, which spanned from his days working for the Des Moines Register to his days as Iowa’s poet laureate, to his prolific “retirement.” Dana read from his 2008 book of poetry, The Other, and other works.

Dana read the following poem when he was named an honorary alumnus on April 17:


This truth we try so hard to teach
Is only such as words can reach
When all their graceful parts of speech
Mumble each to each to each.