Flashback. On Wednesday, April 14, Jennie Battles, director of Vachel Lindsay State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth Street in Springfield called me and asked if I would read a Vachel Lindsay poem during Carol Doty’s presentation about Jens Jensen. The early natural landscape preservationist was the kind of fellow who would speak against cutting down a beautiful stand of trees on the southwest corner of MacArthur at Iles to make way for our city’s first “shopping center.” Jensen was also a Landscape architect who designed nature parks. Lincoln Memorial Gardens by Lake Springfield was transformed from farmland to the wonderful array of wood chip trails, trees, natural flowers and stone meeting circles in large part by Jensen. It was a loss of farmland for sure, but the trees and plants planted there during its creation were selected by Jensen and a group of Springfieldian volunteers who packed their car trunks with saplings and seedlings and drove them out to the site by the new lake. Jensen was one of three close friends in Chicago Vachel Lindsay netted after he became an internationally famous poet. The others were Carl Sandburg and Jane Addams of Hull House. When the statue of Chief Black Hawk, created by Loredo Taft was dedicated at Lowden State Park near Oregon, IL, Vachel read a new poem “The Black Hawk War of the Artists” he had written for the occasion. I transcribed the poem from Dennis Camp’s tremendous three-volumes about the man and e-mailed Jennie that I’d have the poem memorized by Sunday and would practice it all week and polished for reciting as it should be for the occasion. And I did.
I arrived at Vachel house about 1:20 to meet Carol and learn how the poem would fit. I gave her a copy of Vachel’s poem I had produced with a link to my Vachel Pages web site and a brochure about my “The Poet Speaks” presentation about the poet. I learned Carol intended to conclude the talk with a group sing of “Illinois Illinois” our state song. She noted her regret that there was no piano player who could play the song for the group, and I offered to boogie home and get my guitar. BOOM! I was gone and back in 20 minutes. Even though folks were starting to arrive, I played a few bars of the song in three keys on guitar until we found one that Carol’s voice would naturally match. It made sense, I suggested, that she could lead the singing, and I’d get us started and accompany on guitar. She agreed.
For about five minutes, I recited the poem in the downstairs bedroom as visitors came in and took seats in the nearby parlor. I had the poem solidly down. No worries.
Her lecture was terrific, accompanied by several slides she had taken of Jensen and more modern developments his part of Illinois and the Jensen cabin in Wisconsin. At her nod and introduction She called me JOE. (Does “Job” on a brochure and my poetry handout strike you as three consecutive letters best spoken as JOE?) I was rattled a little, and the recital was not as smooth as it would have been sans JOE reference. I came to a few ragged pauses, and Carol, standing close-by gently prompted me. That saved my recital.
At the end, I rose, took my guitar and sang the song, a little raggedly because Carol varied the melody, but we made it through the first, second and fourth verses, lyrics of which had been included on the back of the program. I didn’t learn until we were enjoying refreshments . . . . .
. . . that Carol didn’t know the melody of the song. It was still fun to share! I later explained to the esteemed scholar how to pronounce my name and told her how much I enjoyed being a part of the event. The consensus of friends who were in the audience was that my recital was fine. They appreciated my effort to memorize it and share it as I did.
On the whole, I was happy with the day. I’ve added “The Black Hawk War of the Artists” to my “poems recited repertoire” and will share it every chance I get because of the exhortation to preserve what nature remains. Thanks to Carol Doty for her excellent scholarship, photography and charm and the fine presentation and to Jennie Battles for arranging and hosting this memorable event.
Live long . . . . . . . . and proper.