Reading Poetry in Oral Tradition

It isn’t often that I have an opportunity to stand on a riser before an audience of colleagues and friends and read poems in the oral tradition, as I did last Sunday evening. The occasion was SpeakEasy 9, the most recent in a series organized by regional poet Luther Allen. The venue was The Amadeus Project in downtown Bellingham, Washington. The theme was “Road Trip.”

24 local poets read, each of us projecting our natural voice (no amplification) to an attentive standing-room-only audience. A young and talented pianist provided interludes with her “interpretations.”

Braving bitter rain and early winter darkness was a small price for such a stimulating and entertaining evening. I look forward to the next opportunity to attend such a community event. Following are the two poems and their introductions that I read.

After failing in premedical training and in art institutes in Chicago and New York City, Vachel Lindsay set out to hike through the country, “sharing the lives of and bringing hope to the common people in the depths through his poetry and art. He would support himself by trading poems and pamphlets for food and shelter.”

Prairie Troubadour

for Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)


Through prairie fields,

along river paths,

he wandered,

the road was his home.


From the Gulf to Chicago,

New York to Santa Fe,

for bread, he tramped.


Before senators, The President,

farmers and scholars, the

homeless on the street, he sang

his rhymes of butterflies, cornfields,

children’s verse, and justice.


In his American voice,

his Midwestern speech,

he sang,

          and wandered,


                                 wandered . . .

this prairie troubadour.   

    Springfield, Illinois

Isn’t it interesting how something speeding through your peripheral vision for a couple seconds will leave a lasting impression, as a moose did to me as we sped along Highway 95 in British Columbia.

        Boreal Matriarch

She startled me

as I sped south

towards the forty-ninth parallel,

a matriarch motionless

on a ribbon of grass

between the shadowy lee of boreal curtains

of emerging spring and melting winter,

and a ditch choked with cattails in murky water.

Clothed in motley camouflage—tawny,

gun-smoke and brown, tints of black on snout

and tail—she stood paramount to multi-

wheeled menaces speeding this wind tunnel.

A solitary life, haggard from winter survival,

calving and suckling, deceptively feigning slow

footedness and tranquility until angered by

predators stalking her offspring, bedded in the

understory, or startled by crossing her path.