Ballad to an Iowa Farmer and Other Reflections
“As a co-worker and newsroom colleague, I knew of Clark Mollenhoff’s prowess as a prize-winning reporter. But I knew little about his skillful touch with poetry. In a few words he paints meaningful pictures of times gone by, of workhorses and the family farm and harvest time. Also powerful is his poetry of wartime. And especially moving are his poems dealing with the deep personal loss of friends and family. We, too, have sustained a great loss in his passing.”—Don Muhm, Des Moines Register
“An amazing writer, Clark smashed the crooks in his news stories, yet he found the larger meaning of life in poetic expression.”—George Mills, author, Looking in Windows
“Mollenhoff wore two hats—as investigative reporter and poet—and wore both of them well. . . . You who are about to read this book should find at least one where Mollenhoff strikes a responsive nostalgic chord.”—William G. Murray, Living History Farms
Many of those who knew the late Clark Mollenhoff as a crusading journalist were surprised to discover his remarkable talent as a poet. Yet Mollenhoff, as poet and reporter, pursued the same objectives: precision, accuracy, and—most of all—truth. What drew Mollenhoff to verse throughout his distinguished fifty-year career in journalism was its emotional appeal; poetry allowed him to express the feelings he held in check in his day-to-day work as a reporter, when he had to keep personal feelings out of the investigation and out of the finished story.
By contrast, Mollenhoff wrote, “Poetry should be like a painting—catching an emotional scene in words so natural and well chosen that they strike a deep chord of empathy in all who read them.” From the time he entered high school, Mollenhoff looked to verse for those “clear pictures with universal themes” that appeared in the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley, Robert Service, Rudyard Kipling, and others introduced to him by his teachers in Lohrville, Algona, and Webster City. To this Iowa boy, known first in his hometown for his musical and athletic achievements and then across the state as a tenacious foe of political corruption, poetry became an inspiration, even an obsession, throughout his life.
Ballad to an Iowa Farmer and Other Reflections contains nearly fifty of Clark Mollenhoff’s most memorable poems. In addition to such recent verse as the title piece—a moving tribute to Iowa’s agrarian pioneers—the book included poems such as “Tommy,” written early in Mollenhoff’s career. Many describe scenes of an Iowa childhood; others convey the emotions of a young serviceman away from home for the first time. Here are the experiences of a good friend, a loving parent, a mourning survivor of war—poems that capture a mood or portray a scene in language that will surely appeal to readers from all walks of life for generations to come.
As a young reporter, Mollenhoff was advised by the Des Moines Register’s Louey Cook, “Be a good reporter of the facts and of your own emotions and you will be a good poet.” Mollenhoff followed this advice, and these intimate verses about the honor and dignity of lives well lived may be his most important literary legacy.