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.”
for Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)
Through prairie fields,
along river paths,
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,
wandered . . .
this prairie troubadour.
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.
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.