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Archive for March, 2009

John Knoeple (left) shares a happy encounter with Joanna Beth Tweedy
March 28, when Joanna Beth Tweedy read from her new novel during Poets in the Parlor, we reaped a “two-fer.” Attending that afternoon was a a poet fixture in this community for more than 30 years, regional poet John Knowpfle. John is the featured presenter at Poets in the Parlor next Saturday, April 4, starting at 2:00 pm.

As a Sangamon State University student (English major) more than 30 years ago, I encountered John in the classroom and in my naiivete and newness to that scene, enjoyed his classes, but didn’t really appreciate them — and the man teaching them —  as I would today. He was thorough in his teaching, kept my attention from start to finish and was a straight shooter with gentle humor. He and his wife Peg, a peace activist and one-time manager of Heartland Peace Center, was equally engaging. They lived in Auburn at the time. A few years later when I attended a literary week festival with special lectures and encountered him again, he was the same. And in the 90s when Bob Bartel launched Poets & Writers Literary Forum (of Springfield, Illinois), John and Peg were early supporters, and Job encountered them often at parties and board meetings  Bartel’s house on south Fifth. At the time, John was widely acknowledged as an Ohio River regional poet — his roots are in Ohio — and in the years sense, his work has continued quintessentially midwest with what seems to Conger, a New England aqftertaste. He is a mature poet with a grounded voice, still a pleasure to encounter, especially when he’s sharing his poetry.

The event begins at  2:00 pm; not the usual 2:30. At least one disttinguied academe — who obviously doesn’t read Honey and Quinine or the entertainment section of the SJ-R, — judging from his arrival about 2:30, was unaware of the change, but there’s little doubt he will be on time April 4. I hope you will be as well. John Knoepfle is well worth a stop, look and listen.

Vachel Lindsay home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth Street, Springfield, is open 9 am to 4 pm Saturdays. Free tours are available any time during open hours.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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There are about five minutes in mid-dawn, when drivers in Springfield, Illinois motoring east on Lawrence Avenue  on a clear day, face temporary blindness and extreme likelihood of a fender bender in the early rush half-hour traffic, if their windshields are not crystal clean and free of humidity from a surprise overnight freeze. So Job Conger learned on his first day of sub teaching for academic year 2008/9 as he pointed his “Blue Goose” directly into that snarling sunrise for all of 18 seconds before pulling off the main road onto a side street to consider his options.

When the call from the substitute teacher calling service came Sunday afternoon, Conger was up to his agate in rockhound club poetry judging and having a decent afternoon. From habit alone, he almost heaved a sigh of regret and explained he had a deadline to meet or that a part-time employer asked him to come in Monday. (He’s being henpecked through semi-abject poverty by part time nice people, and if you don’t believe it, look at his teeth. Another subject; he’ll spare you for now.). Truth was, Conger needed to get back into substitute teaching. He had taken the workshop last September, thoroughly enjoys his interacting with what he calls “21st Century Yoot” and when the caller said it would be just half a day for a Special Education class at Washington Middle School, that cinched the deal. A former girlfriend who had nurtured him generously through his 21st birthday had been a Special Education teacher at Washington, later at Rochester, and meeting her students — during visits to her classrooms —  in the personna of  “poet and songwriter” a few times had imprinted on his young mind a cherished appreciation for young people giving life their best under sub-nominal circumstance and dedicated teachers and administrators who help them along. Conger would never decline a call to teach Special Ed when he was not committed to something else.

The frost on the windshield was an unhappy surprise. He fears being late more than he fears arriving at school with his zipper open, so having to scrape thick frost from glass was a fast drag. He’d count on an extremely wounded car heater — which really doesn’t begin to generate heat until it’s 70 degrees outside — to clear what he missed as he drove. Five seconds after he backed out and pointed west on his home street, he groped for a part of the curb where no neighbors’ cars were parked. He was not half done.

He grabbed a green wool flannel blanket to clear what appeared a unique “sub frost,” that from the inside appeared like fog, off the front. He keeps that blanket mostly to cover things that matter in the front seat when running into the pharmacy for a fast package of Cheetos or the like. It was invaluable for the windshield. By the time he turned east from Pasfield onto Lawrence three minutes later and faced the sun again, it was clear (so to speak) he couldn’t stay on that busy street.

The first signs of true clear, helped by the two degree temperatutre differentual from the windshield defogger breeze, had begun to appear as he turned east, but he was being passed during that first tentative block the way people pass 92-year old grandmothers driving ’64 Buick Centuries on the Indianapolis Beltway.  He felt if he just gave the defogger a few more minutes he could survive the dash across town into the the sun and self-actualization at Washington Middle.

And so it came to be. The early going was one-way eastbound, so he picked his lane and stayed there. Traffic was not the problem as long has he stayed stable in the lane. And by the time he came out smiling after an enjoyable morning at one of his favorite schools, the last vestige of semi-obliteration had gone away. It would be a clear and cozy-warm drive home.

The morning inside was a delight. Most of the seventh grade students were participating in a field trip to Lincoln Land Community College. And first period was prep time. NERTS! Conger had forgotten to bring a project for slow time — as in prep and lunch — so he read poetry from literature texts on a shelf. Conger noted that in Book 1, information about how to have a poetry reading, and how to participate in one, were in the “Resources Appendix” at the end of the large volume, which included some excellent poems by Emily Dickenson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and some more contemporary writers. Conger was disappointed that the short bio of Hughes mentioned the fact hat one of the founders of the Harlem Renaissance had been a waiter in Washington, DC but did NOT say Vachel Lindsay helped put Highes on the literary MAP at a time when black poets weren’t getting a lot of attention. Book 2 (Conger guessed for 8th grade) included poetry reading info — essentially the same as encountered in Book 1) in the poetry chapter (YES!) and by some newer poets including T.S. Eliot, Robert Service, Pablo Neruda and Ogden Nash. THERE WERE NO VACHEL LINDSAY poems in either book! Those people! (steam)  In second hour Conger was delighted to hear one of his students laugh out loud when she read Nash’s short poem entitled Ducks. There were four Nash poems on the page, and he read them all aloud to the class to their clear pleasure. It was a good morning.

One made even better by a chance encounter with District 186 School Superintendent Dr. Walter Milton, whom Conger had met and met with soon after the man’s arrival in this town in 2007. As Conger stood outside the classroom door, he noticed a well-dressed gent who recognized Conger (“Job, is that you?”) before Conger recognized him. Conger even introduced him to his students before Conger explained his ongoing desire to be more than a substitute teacher in District 186. He had met with Milton and an administrative aid i8n early 2008 but nothing panned out. It would be different this time, perhaps. At any rate, the good superintendent asked him to call his office and set up a meeting for next week. This, Conger shall do.

The rest of the day was a breeze. Conger drove home with a beautiful windshield, had lunch, worked a little more on the poetry contest and then began putting together some thoughts for his presentation at Taylorville Public Library in mid April. He had started the real focus on this during prep time at Washington Middle, so seriously he actually printed instead of writing long hand. This is the best way to ensure that a few hours later he could recognize the words. The organizers want him to share some Conger, some Vachel and to bring his guitar.

One terrific aspect of substitute teaching is that he can talk about poetry without people squirming in obvious discomfort. What better place to think poetry, to plan poetry and to learn poetry than at school, sans distractions of phone and matters aeronautical (major distraction in Casa de Ramblemouth)? He can engage the craft and expand his own froggy mind reading what’s in textbooks. No audience in a public library will desire more than what they can understand at first listen. That’s not a bad thing.

Conger tweaked some rockhound poetry contest thoughts and took a nap after lunch. The rest of the day would go just fine.

Live long . . . . and proper.

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Stopping by Springfield on a Sunny Afternoon
by Job Conger


Your pilot parks your Lear 31
as close to the flight operations entrance
as legally possible.
That’s because you rate, man.
You have arrived!

Yeah, SPRINGFIELD – that’s in Illinois, right?
You saw the silver top of the Capitol Building
during the last few minutes of your descent
from forty-something-thousand feet
and high cruise at about .80 Mach –
that’s about 560 miles per hour to your parents –
to this sleepy podunk in the middle of nowhere — Hey,
in case anyone should ask,
everything seems okay for what it is, okay?

Not that you’d know,
not that what you think about it matters
as far off your career track as it so clearly is.
You “dropped in” here because,
your pilot intercommed you 20 minutes ago how the bird was
thirstier than expected from fighting headwinds at cruise altitude,
No prob; you just needed to top off the go juice,
to make it safe into Dallas.
Besides, there’s nothing left but soda in the galley,
and you and your posse have the hungries.

So while the service people fill the fuel tanks to the brim
and the rented pilot of your rented jet relaxes in the flight crew lounge
the four of you pool pocket change and fill a few
plastic grocery bags with vending machine potato chips,
and you take a fast leak in the men’s room
because you hate the tiny head with the privacy curtain
in back of the jet.

This is major league stylin’, man.
Today you’re dressed like you’re home with your wife and two-year-oold

and a couple of buddies, watching hte Super Bowl and
tossing down some Coronas with lime in your crib.
Today’s fashion in conspicuous casual, man.
No fuss, man.

Sunday you’ll be wearing
a fireproof Nomex jumpsuit
and a helmet that can be dropped
from a 10-story building onto concrete
without a scratch. That’s when it matters, man
You’ll be driving one of your sponsor’s NASCAR machines
at 190 on the straightaways
while 85 THOUSAND fans in the stadium watch
and Darryl Waltrip talks about you on Fox TV.

Sure the Learjet is rented goods,
but you’ll have your own soon enough
if your career steers as true as it has since you first raced mini-carts
when you were six years old, then took the elevator up through the ranks.
Today, you charter a jet. Next year, you will own the motherbanger,
and a faster one, too, with more room and with real walls around the crapper.

You barely notice the photographer out by the airplane.
Pilot said he could take pictures,
but he wouldn’t tell the guy who he flies for.
The company logo on the tail has the company name,
but there was no need to introduce anybody.
Who the hell grows beards like that anymore?

So now, they’re done with the airplane. Let’s boogie.
With your two bags of nourishment in hand,
you and your three homies blow out to the airplane.
Pilot already took care of the paperwork.
There’s no  traffic inbound close, so the control tower
gives immediate clearance for takeoff
at pilot’s discretion after he completes his checklist
and makes sure everything is set for departure and fast cruise to Big D
less than two hours out of here.

The acceleration down Runway 31 as you start rolling pushes you back
into your seat like taking off from a navy aircraft carrier, man.
You leave the ground at 140 and climb like a rocket at 250 miles per
until you pass 10,000 feet less than three minutes from wheels up,
Then you have a straight shot to “angel’s 45″ as the flyboys say, at 500 plus.

A flash in your eye from the retreating silver dome
seconds into the sky — the capitol — Illinois, isn’t it?
You said nothing to a soul on the ground after you asked for
directions back to the vending machines. Not a bg deal.
You have big fish to fry at the track Sunday.
And you have truly made it man.
You have frikkin’ arrived!

—- Conger wrote this after he witnessed passengers and pilot spend about 15 minutes on the ground at a Springfield fixed base operator Wednesday,  March 25.

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Joanna Beth Tweedy, author of The Yonder Side of Sass and Texas, will read from her debut novel during her feature presentataion at Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth Street, Saturday, March 28, starting at 2 pm.

Besides author of the new book, published by  Southeast Missouri University Press, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Benedictine University, Springfield has published poetry and fiction in many literary journals and anthologies. She has taught creative writing, literature and educational leadership and has seerved as faculty-in residence for hte Capital Scholars Honors Program at University of Illinois at Springfield.

The 2:00 starting time is a change from the 2:30 tradition of recent years. You will want to arrive at least by 1:45 and better, 1:30 to be sure of getting a seat. This event takes place in the parlor and reading room at the Lindsay Home, and seating is limted to about 30. Chances are they will fill fast. The jprogram will last just short of an hour. Tours of the site are available before and after her presentation.

Poetry in the Parlor is a monthly feature at this historic site which is open ONLY on Saturday. If you value Springfield’s historic legacy, you should plan to attend, to sign your name in the site’s guestbook, and introduce yourself to Site Director Jennie Battles. Tell her Job Conger sent you. Your attendance will halp convince our new governor, who lives next door, by the way, that this historic home and other historic sites in Illinois closed by the previous chief executive, should be open six days a week.

Ernest blogmeister will attend. He hopes you will too.

Live long . . . .  and proper.

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Five Six

branchs14

Conger’s Saturday was storybook perfect, but by Sunday evening at 7:30 he felt he had been dragged, kicking and screaming, through a bramble bush of secessionist Republicans. He was miffed that he still had things to do before he could break for dinner, and knew that if he broke early, he’d likely not finish a project he had to finish and send off to a friend. He hadn’t remembered until late afternoon Sunday he had to produce the next Springfield Chapter Illinois Pilots Association newsletter, and he felt the energy drainingg like a serious fuel leak on a long-distance flight.

He had been occupied productively almost all day. He had taken time for lunch after two hours in the office.following the Sunday news shows, but his guilty conscience would not let him watch more than 10 minutes of the NASCAR race: 500 laps on a half-mile track, not even with Darrel Waltrip making it interesting as he always does.

Conger had a hard disk to lighten, transferring seldom-visited pictures onto CDs from computer A (CA) and transferring them to computer B (CB). He also had to type captions for about 50 pictures he’s going to be showing at a presentation he makes to an area library audience later this week. He also had promised himself to spend one hour transcribing notes from an interview with some fine people, notes and quotes to be forged into a Springfield Business Journal article with a deadline of TOMORROW.

Tomorrow, TOMORROW, he loathes you TOMORROW. You make him feel like a bum.

Well transcribing notes would have to wait. He’d arise early, seven-ish if he could  bed down before 11 Sunday.

Tedium by the hour. Transcribing notes would have been fun any other time, but the who encounter had reeked in a mega kind of way. The principals sat considerable distance away in a room that would have been fine for groups of 10 semi-circled around two hubs side to side. He DREADED hearing the conversation quality and was glad that despite his host’s marshalling eight associates in for the interview, only three had done most of the talking. Another positive: he had been given MANY news releases. What he could not quote from the people, he would cite from materials provided. Still he mentalliy flagellated himself all the way home from the Thursday interview for not initiating and requiring a better arrangement of good people closer to his microphone. He’d take his chances. And he’d also call and speak with two other nnecessary sources to complete his feature article. This he would do. As for Sunday, that was his day of rest.

Not quite. He also hand-transcribed his newest poem for posting at Honey & Quinine and cut and pasted it into his FaceBook PLACE: Springfield Illinois Poets Forum, a discussion board for people who want to post and share poems. He felt rotten he had not had presence of mind and time to respond to three notes from valued poet friends. That won’t happen until late Tuesday at the earliest.

He was thankfull that Saturday he had finished picking up sticks and carrying them to the pile by his street curb. They would make nice pictures to share at Honey & Quinine.

branchs21

It was eight o ripping CLOCK and Conger had to get to the newsletter. THEN he would do the dinner thing.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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It Was a Younger Town

It Was a Younger Town
by Job Conger

Memories of street corners depress him.
Where the mega-pharmacy-convenience store stands —
southeast corner, 5th at South Grand —
a Top’s Big Boy Restaurant was a favorite rendezvous
through almost thirty years: high school dear hearts and pals
came for Slim Jim platters and milk shakes after movies,
breezing a straight shot down 5th from downtown to meet
church friends for the breakfast buffet
after Sunday school and second services.
He had the makings of a responsible adult back then.
A used car lot thrived on the same real estate for decades before.

In the dance studio —
southwest corner, South Grand at Glenwood —
lived a charity second-hand store and before:
the office supply store and before,
the Avenue Food Shop and before,
The Sugar Bowl,
hangout of his older sister
where he once tagged along with her
and her boyfriend. Mom insisted.
What a jukebox they had!

Today’s lifeless, dusty, pot-holed asphalt and dirt —
southeast corner, 4th at South Grand —
was home to a Ponderosa Steak House in the 70s,
turned computer store, turned
another charity second-hand store
that suffered before moving on up to
the West Side and thriving.

The airport on the southwest side —
nudged to oblivion by encroaching residential developers —
sold by airport owners for handsome profit and
they got rich and why the hell not?
They hadn’t prospered, really prospered,
since the new airport opened north of the city back in ’47.

The supermarkets once close-in to the south side —
Piggly Wiggly, Eisner, National, IGA, Kroger, A&P —
all gone broke or relocated west, leaving less and less
central city, glistening in mercantile plenty and convenience,
before happy neighborly familiarity was knifed, eviscerated and left
to rot in tide pools, anxious, trapped residents
who could not or would not migrate, watching the
sullen sharks in baggy pants and scowling faces
shuffling down the center of the streets; never on sidewalks.

The northwest corner, Pasfield at South Grand,
a Watt Bros. drug store with a soda fountain
that served cherry phosphates and chocolate Cokes and
sundaes, any day of the week.
He rote there on his Huffy bike from home.
It became a King Harvest Food Co-op, then
a trendy gift boutique, then
a fitness training club, then
for the past two years, empty of life, but not of memories.

The northeast corner, Whittier and Ash, five lots north of
his childhood home, two and a half blocks
from the duplex he owns today, the house he is afraid to see
because he is afraid the experience will kill him and
he is afraid the experience will not kill him;
afraid to gaze, like a thief, on walls that were his, his,
to see what was once a meticulously gardened yard
with the maple tree he purchased as a sapling
at a grade school Arbor Day sale,the house, the only safe harbor he would know
though he didn’t know it at the time;
didnt revere it, didn’t love it,
didn’t thank his parents for their sacrifice.
Sometimes he wishes he had the courage
to walk two and a half blocks almost straight south
and tour the alley he roamed regulary as a 10-year old.
Today he hears the echoes of his neighbors then, friendly;
he holds in his nostrils the fragrances of his kid-friends’ homes: Phil Daykin,
Wendy Booth, the Wilsons, Marcia Blizek, Karen Gernenz, Tom Keeslar,
Charlie Allen, Jay Bruninga, Paul Tack, Greg Pease, Don Arenz who built
and raced a Soap Box Derby car down the hill on North MacArthur one summer,
every one golden,
and everyone moved away.

In his dreams, he looks into the yard from the alley,
reaches out from his heart and steals
more happy memories, sees the back door and hears
his sister Dorothy, brother Bill,
Mom and Dad, his friends until
everybody moved out of town but him
and the world changed
and the world grew up around him,
and the world grew on without him,
and he remained
the same.

— When he passed around copies of this poem at Writers Bloc Saturday, he explained he does not feel so bitter all the time, but he feels it often enough to write a poem about it.

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backyard1

Thelonius Dog and Slick Richard had departed the back yard through a hole in the hurricane fence on the same morning a friend, Mark Twain portrayer George Scott arrived at Job Conger’s front door for a visit and a promised tour of Vachel Home State Historic Site. He did not realize it the night before, but after he discovered the dogs has escaped about 10:30 and coaxed them back into the back yard after thinking he had discovered and fixed the hole in the fence through which they had exited, he returned to the toasty home having seen them for the last time in his life.

Because of the indefinite arrival time, Conger could not leave the house and silently wished for the Labradors errant a kind fate beyond his back yard. In the months that followed the dirt paths worn into his lawn by the dogs grew over with green, and for the remainder of the spring and summer, the grass seemed to return overgrowing the pasths and remaining clumps of sun-bleached dog waste. There was no more foul odor, and the clumps became one with the surrounding soil, joined by the fall harvest of leaves from neighbors’ trees. On Monday, when he returned to the back yard for the first time in the new year to rake it for the first time in close to four years, the illusion of complete green coverage was succeeded by what — had the grass been hair — resembled the kind of horrendous random baldness that no comb over can cure. before the rake upper left and after the rake to the right
For most of the ensuing two hours, Conger carried a virtual woodpile of accumulated branches fallen into his back yard over about six years and initially stacked to the side inside his backyard fence. The treck to curbside in front was a real workout. In between carrying branches, he raked leaves off his back deck and far enough to the far end of the yard so neighbors would know a change for the better had begun.

Tuesday, there was more raking of leaves and thatch with occasional additional branch runs to the front. For two hours, leaves were packed into 33 gallon plastic garbage bags, carried to the rearmost part of the back yard where the Vinegar Hill Nature Conservancy raw prairie land had been and dumped on the ground as it was. When all the rest of the yard is raked and dumped, he intends to rake it all out reasonably level and actively treat the area no longer as a nature conservancy, but as a compost heap. The notion of carrying bio-degradable paper bags of leaves to curbside for weekly pickup repulsed Conger. The heap was set aside from the rest of the yard by granite stepping stones, giving the impression of “inteligint desine,” though some would prefer to call it “evolution.”

EVOLUTION?  YOU SAY YOU WANT A EVOLUTION?

But if you go carryin’ pictures of Chairman Mao,
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”
———————————————– John Lennon

The happy upshot of six hours’ focused labor over three days was that Conger felt his muscle tone improving and could swear he could tell a difference under his belt. He felt good about being able to expend the effort and feeling better AFTER concluding the work than he felt BEFORE beginning each day’s raking.

Thursday and Friday, thanks to lunch away from home and temperatures in the low 50s, he didn’t get into the yard. He will Saturday and Sunday if it’s warmer than 55 and dry.

Conger HOPES to continue until the major raking and sweeping for the vegetation on the west side of his house plus both yards have been cleared of leaves and thatch. He has big plans, including extensive renovation in granite. But that’s a posting for another time.

In the meantime, he celebrates an improved outlook on life, thanks to efforts thus far, and recommends lawn care as a practical way to take some weight off and generate a new dimension in contentment.

Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right.
All right.
All right.
All right.
All right.
All right.
All right.
ALL RIGHT!

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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