Mission to Moscow

An Irish poet reflects on his time in Idaho

HUMANITIES, September/October 2009, Volume 30, Number 5

From Idaho Humanities, in which this account by Irish poet and Fulbright Scholar Kevin Kiely appeared at the request of the council as his two-year stint teaching and researching in Idaho was drawing to a close. The article sums up Kiely’s peregrinations in the West. “Frontier consciousness is the Idaho experience nonpareil,” he says. Below he sketches his impressions of an American university town.

Martin Heidegger found the universe in the village or town. I found the American universe in the secular monastery atmosphere of the University of Idaho, mainly in Brink Hall, the library with a modern clock tower, the more spectacular Administration with its cathedral-like clock tower and cupola, Ridenbaugh Hall, the Alumni Center—each a triumph of architectural art, each inspirational, especially when the moon is low and looming over Moscow. 105 N. Main Street #2, once part of the hundred-year-old Hotel El Norte, has been my lodging, within sight of three notorious clubs: CJ’sMoose Lodgeand the Corner. The battle between the ascetic intellectual workbench and the profane Orphic Bacchanalias always has been a contest, now one winning out, then the other.

Up here, the long summers are for sun worshipping while the harvests are gathered by combines: green John Deere and red Case. Cycling the hilly streets of the campus demands a seasonal change of bike-brakes. However, a university set on hills is the traditional habitat for contemplation of the arts and sciences, thesis defenses, and the ultimate advances through imagination. The precincts of the campus are among warrior trees that phalanx the predominantly Gothic village where we college folk spend the working day. At night, Main Street appears to be all of Moscow until you discover the foxier locations off it, such as The Alley. On Jackson, the towering silos of the Latah County Grain Growers’ derelict noble structure is topped with a lit red star paying nightly homage to bygone union struggles, workers’ rights, and the once American communist enclave in its appropriately named context: Moscow.

Reprinted with permission of Idaho Humanities and Kevin Kiely.