Archive for October, 2011

A Singular Consensus
by Job Conger

My friends and acquaintances
do not serve my consciousness
as the committee of my morality,
the jury for my soul,
the arbiters of my joys and sorrows,
even though I am closer to them
than I am close to
Joe Biden
Michelle Bachman
J. Michael Houston
Ellen Kree.
My morality
comes from me.

Do I best
serve my desire
to embrace, to engage
transcendent imperatives
by coupling my name
to hummin’ beans I admire
and bathing in the golden glow
of their lofty, shimmering, status quo?
but I serve it pretty well that way
and I continue to aspire
to higher.

We are what we are
from our intake of mandates
and advisories
from Pharisees
and worker bees —
a diet not always consensually chosen,
and sometimes swallowed under duress..
We are not what we excrete —
okay, maybe some of us are —
we are what we retain.

I am not a friend
of many acquaintances I admire
though I wish I were.
Acquaintances are sadly
seldom more than faces
with names I can remember,
acknowledged with a not
while sharing a mutually-desired realm.

My friends are
tolerant people
who endure my passion
for connection,
who submit to 28 seconds and 17 words
of polite, patina-conversation
as we face-t0-face
once or twice or maybe thrice in a freaking month!
That’s okay.
One poet’s worm
is another poet’s feast.

I do not navigate my cosmos
ransoming my contentment
to those who touch my life.
When day is done,
I adjourn to sleep and fate,
a quorum of one.

written 10:58, Thursday, October 27, 2011


My most recent poem, this, written to keep my promise to write and read aloud, one new poem for every opportunity to share my poetry. The epiphany arrived when I was working early at my AeroKnow Museum, and I wrote a few lines on scrap paper before coming to work for the employer who has not given me a pay check since September 23.  Yes, as short-order cook Thumb Pain might have said, “These are the times that fry mens’ souls.” Most of my poems require revision after revision. It’s like falling in love: you never know it’s real until you stop wondering if it’s real. THEN you know! Only when it speaks to me that it’s done do I know it’s done, but even then, I don’t know for sure that it’s done. I printed six revisions before I printed the one I would share at Fourth Thursday Spoken Word Night at Springfield’s The Pharmacy art studio and arts center, Pasfield at South Grand. Here is my view of the audience and room from the front where I paused to take this picture before putting my camera down and commencing my ASSAULT on SEDATE.

the audience as seen from behind my camera

The entire evening was time well spent, and my part went well. After taking the picture, host Andrew Woolbright and I passed out

copies (GOTcha!) 🙂 of the program handout I had produced for my presentation about John Chapman at Vachel Lindsay State Historic Site last Saturday. I had earlier considered reading the poem about Chapman (a/k/a Johnny Appleseed I wrote earlier this year but I changed my mind. Instead I began where I left off last month at Fourth Thursday: finished reciting Vachel’s poem “The Kallyope Yell” because I had stopped short in September. I successfully recited Vachel’s “Simon Legree,” and the poem posted here.

A good time appeared to have been had by all.

Live long . . . . . . . . and proper


Read Full Post »

On Saturday, October 22, I shared the story of my involvement with the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio and visit to John Chapman’s (“Johnny Appleseed’s) grave in Ft. Wayne, Indiana with an audience that filled all seats at Vachel Lindsay House State Historic Site, 603 S. Sixth in lyrical downtown Springfield, Illinois. The presentation was so much a part of what I do, what I believe “Fate” intends for me to do, that I’ve been hesitating to share the story of this event. Would you want to read about me washing dishes on a Sunday morning? I think “no.” Yet washing dishes on a Sunday morning is as much a part of life that I warmly embrace as talking about people who I regard as joys in my life. This post is not about what happened between March 17 and 20 this year; it’s about what happened October 22.

I began preparing for October 22 in early April after I had delivered a gift I had purchased at the Appleseed Museum to site administrator Jennie Battles at Vachel’s house: an apple-themed ceramic serving plate, very attractive, something for cookies. Jennie and I agreed to save a Saturday date in the fall for me to share the story. I would recite the poem I had read at the Ohio museum and share pictures. She also invited me to tell younger visitors about Johnny Appleseed at a summertime Children’s Story Time Saturday morning event.

The Story Time event promised prime time for a poem I wanted to write for younger hearts, and my mid-May, my new poem “Song of Johnny Appleseed” was on paper and ready to share.

In the course of memorizing and performing almost 40 of my favorite poems by Vachel Lindsay and even more of my own,  I have learned that if I cannot recite a poem while somersaulting around the livingroom floor and buttoning, then unbuttoning my shirt and watching a video of a fave movie, I am not ready to recite that poem in public. The words of a poem must be so second nature to me that I can speak the words while adding the additional essential ingredients for public presentation. I do not call this kind of sharing “Performing.” I call it “releasing the poem as it should be released to deliver maximum understanding of the author’s words and intent for the poem.” Speaking the words of a poem, either reciting or reading from a piece of paper is not all there is, not all there should be to sharing a poem aloud in public or with friends. It is not all there should be because as hummin’ beans, we are imbued with the capacity, with practice, to do so much more!

The process required reading aloud many times, mostly at home. That’s easy because I live alone — dammit — and the mice don’t complain. It also required reading it aloud in public at open mics and poetry events where I’m not a featured poet for the occasion. When I’m featured, I recite; simple as that, the LEAST I can do for people who WANT to hear/see me, who aren’t there by benign coincidence. Reading aloud allows a glimpse of the good spots in a poem and the not-so-hot spots where people didn’t react as anticipated. 

Some phrases in a selected poem seem to lock into the brain in a reading (aloud) practice or two. Other phrases, lines, couplets and more seem to take forever. In Vachel’s poem, even after I considered the poem “essentially memorized” in early September, two lines continued to give me fits. They are in italics in the following . . .
“In a pack on his back,
In a deer-hide sack,
The beautiful orchards of the past,
The ghosts of all the forests and groves.”

Only when — while trying different rhythms to the third line — I discovered the key to locking it in. Consider “The BEAUtiful ORchards OF the PAST/ The GHOSTS of ALL the FOrests and groves.” When I remembered that rhythm in lines that are a trifle prosey for a poem, I remembered the line. More important, the lines recited that way were not stilted or contrived. Recited that way, they advanced the poem!
There were some other lines, particularly “The rooster-trumpeting, boar foaming, wolf-ravening forest.” When I understood the smiles that were built into that line, reprising some points made early into the poem, they too came smoothly from the “page inside my mind’s eyes” to coin a phrase. But I must tell you, if I had not recited that poem at least 30 times — sometimes just the challenging lines, almost as often the entire three pages — in the week leading up to the 22nd, I would have failed that poem at Vachel’s house!

Jennie had arranged the loan of a computer and apparatus that allowed me to project pictures and text to a bare wall at Vachel’s, material I assembled in Word with 300 dpi, 5″ x 7″ pictures. I should have practiced using it before the 22nd but circumstance did not permit.  Gentlemen volunteers already familiar with it helped, and thanks to Linda Suits at the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency for loaning the equipment. I MUST acquire one of those not-quite PowerPoint machines. There were a few “ripples in the flow” of image projecting, but nothing that sank my canoe.

I concluded by reciting part 1 of Vachel’s “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed, ” the same words I had read March 19 in Ohio. Some rocks impeded the two or three lines early into the reciting, but no serious harm was inflicted and it was incredibly smooth sailing for the rest of it. I finished my presentation three-minute short of the allocated 40 minutes. I know tis because I had brought a digital, battery-powered timer that was easy to read.

The audience approved. I know this because they applauded when I stopped.

A fellow named Peter who was visiting the house from Chicago and stayed for my presentation subsequently e-mailed me asking if I could come up to Chicago to share with his friends and associates. I replied: “Pay my expenses, and consider me THERE when you want me.

It was a fine conclusion to a sequence of events that began last January 20. It’s not quite the end. I am going to keep what I recited in my active repertoire along with a bunch of other Vachel and a bunch of other Me. Thanks to Jennie Battles of Vachel’s house and to all who attended, especially Sandy, Barbara, Kit, Fred, Peter, Marge, and the rest!

Out of respect to those planning to attend Spoken Word Night at The Pharmacy, a new Springfield visual arts studio and arts event center at South Grand at Pasfield on Thursday, October 27, starting at 7 p, I will not speak John Chapman’s name. I will recite Vachel’s poem “Simon Legree” and a few of my own.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

He Embraced the Void
by Job Conger

Dennis Camp died
October 3, 2011.
It doesn’t matter how he died the outcome is the same
he’s GONE!

What is there to say
when it’s too late to say goodbye?
His echoes linger louder
than his life.

As a tenor in high school’s concert choir
after months of preparing
for the major concert of the year,
I was overwhelmingly sad
for hours after it was over.
The echoes lingered loud in my heart
and I could not let go of the bliss
from getting it all together right and sharing the music.

For some, life is practice:
the striving for perfection
in life’s magnum opus,
the striving to see the vista
waiting over the horizon,
until the moments joyously come
and the last note of the last song is sung,
and the soul recognizes there will be no more concerts.

Perhaps his secret miseries,
confounding his quest,
overcame him and he became —
like the family cat after eating tainted tuna —
determined to be the exemplar
who would not share his great distress,
who endured in silence
and succumbed to lethal solitude.

Perhaps the man was smart
to terminate his misery
by terminating the source of it:

Saying goodbye
to those he thought his friends
would have compounded his woe;
not lessened it.
No one would have understood.

What is there to say
when it is time to say goodbye?
There was nothing to say.

The moments remembered,
the echoes of his presence and words —
all generous gifts to the world —
he left behind
linger louder than his life today.

The world did not understand
at the time,
did not care to understand
how we could save him
from us, from our incapacities
and from his.

And so he is a memory,
alive in neither tumult nor peace.

We turned a page in the newspaper
or read a post on the internet;
learned of his surrender
to the wordless, timeless, flavorless
void of eternity,
the destiny of all humanity.

He surrendered too soon,
too soon for us,
but not too soon
for Dennis Camp.

written 7:15 am, Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Dennis Camp was a friend who contributed more to my understanding and appreciation of legendary Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay than anyone else I ever conversed with about the poet. His death was unexpected, but as a former student of his, I had taken a class he taught about three Illinois poets (the other two were Carl Sandberg and Edgar Lee Masters) and I understand, more than I can explain,  the outcome of his life.

I am sharing this poem for the first time tonight at Robbie’s downtown. This will not be the last time I share this poem.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

Chap books were originally smaller-than-typical, inexpensive books without fancy bindings of ribald or, at least, amusing poems and essays and typically 50 or fewer pages, not illustrated, sold by traveling peddlers in England. They had no moral goal other than to entertain countrymen of the hinterland who had learned how to read. The modern equivalents of the original are small books, 6″ x 9″ or so, sometimes self published, often published by cottage industry editors who take poems and often burnish them into shape on the cheap for practiced readers’ consumption and sold for less than $10 a book. Chap books today area a terrific way to share burgeoning writers’ words as a “sampler” of the best, something strangers will buy on a lark because they like your smile, or the reading you gave at Robbie’s last month. I recently published a chap book with none of my poetry, but a lot of my prose, pictures in color and black and white, and two poems by Springfield, Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay. It is entitled Confluence of Legends and subtitled The Spirit of John Chapman, “Johnny Appleseed” meets Vachel Lindsay “Prairie Troubadour.”  It’s the story of how I was engaged to read Vachel’s poem “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed, Part I, Over the Appalachian Barricade” for a permanent exhibit at the Johnny Appleseed Education Center and Museum on the campus of Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio, an “apple’s throw” from Springfield, Ohio. The successful effort led to my appearance at the rededication of the Museum and a visit to John Chapman’s grave in Ft. Wayne, Indiana this year where I read the entire poem to “the spirit of John Chapman” and to my friend Arthur Humphrey, a member of the Appleseed Museum’s Board of Trustees, who underwrote expenses for my trip and did all the driving. As I say in the book, it  brief visit to Urbana University during the rededication was the most enjoyable five consecutive hours of my life I’ve experienced with my clothes on. I shared what I learned about Chapman and read a poem I wrote about his life  during a summer event at Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth Street in Springfield, and on October 22, starting at 2pm, I will premiere the book I wrote during my “Poetry in the Parlor” presentation. If you live in central Illinois, I hope you will attend this presentation.

If you can’t attend, I hope you will purchase the book I produced. An autographed copy is yours for $5 if I hand it to you and $6 if I mail it to you.

Without Arthur Humphrey’s help and his darn near unfathomable regard for my ability to speak a poem, there would have been no voice of mine in the Appleseed Museum exhibit, there would have been no “confluence of legends” last March, and no October 22 presentation at Vachel’s house. Here is what he said after reading my new book . . .

“I am completely blown away — and haven’t seen one typo — and how professional it is, and how interesting too. How is it that you can take some ordinary experience or memory and make it into something downright fascinating, again and again?
. . . .”Why didn’t you find a career writing for some big newspaper or magazine — or is that still in your future? I can see many great books coming out of your brain — and onto paper sometime soon.
. . . . “YOU HAVE REAL TALENT, only … maybe you never believed you did? Or someone told you didn’t. I doubt that. Or you already knew this and are laughing at me for saying this. I can’t wait to show Confluence to my mother, brother and his wife who are arriving here tomorrow.

“Would you like some financial help to print a larger batch of the book for the Johnny Appleseed Museum and Urbana University Library and other places. There are many venues for it, I think.

“I have never been to the Fort Wayne J.A. Festival, but I would think a reading of “the poem” by you with other Johnny-loving onlookers there might be a wonderful event? I might get into seeing what I can do about getting you to come to Bryn Athyn (north of Philadelphia) sometime if this might interest you.

“You are the very best,. Dont ever lose that wonderful jacket or your great singing touch. You have a wonderfully-tuned guitar.”

My responses to his note in a nutshell. . . . .

I will travel anywhere to read, recite and sing my poems where expenses are paid. Bryn Athyn in the spring would be great.

I write for two local publications, but no one has offered me a living wage to write for them full-time as I earnestly want to do.

I believe I am a good writer. I wish more people felt the same. I have faith in my ability to write as a journalist, poet and tunemaker. My ability with my guitar is about C+ and if I played more frequently, I believe I could improve to a B.

The people who admire my writing the most are the people most unlikely to allow me to earn my living as a journalist and a poet. I would gladly trade off some kind words for some perishable food items and a new pair of pants, but no one is looking for my talent now.

I’m paying for copies of Confluence to be printed and distributed at the Appleseed Museum, a local bookstore and wherever I share my poetry and song. At press runs of 50 at a time, I can pay for them myself. I would welcome a legitimate publisher interested in publishing that book or any other I have written.
After sending copies of the “first edition” to Arthur and to the Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio, I revised the book, correcting some minor oversights and a typo or two so that what I offer at my October 22 presentation at Vachel’s house starting at 2pm will be the publication I truly want to share.

I hope to see you there!    🙂

Live long . . . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

There was considerable surprise and exhultation when I awakened on September 5th of the year 2011, my birthday,  something I had not expected to do when I was 25. During the first half of the month, I rode the high: purchased new sheets and pillowcases for the first time since about 1991 because the fitted corners were ripping apart and I needed a boost, a reason not to curl up in the living room easy chair as I’ve done more this year than any since 1977.

I purchased a second cell phone which — after consulting with a Radio Shack associate — made me happier than the first, a Virgin Mobil which was like a launch control array for sending rockets to the moon from Cape Canaveral.  I thought the AT&T one would work better than my first, and at first it did, but it didn’t have the VOLUME I need in the ear piece, and every time I made a phone call, I felt like a five-year-old sweating his way through an itchy haircut. I gave it to a friend at work. So I’m still bummed and without a cell phone. If I can find one with more volume, I’ll buy it. Meanwhile I haven’t even looked at the AT&T device for more than a month.

And then the TV broke. At first I lost all signal coming in through the digital adapter, and a week later I lost PBS which came through the air without the adapter, the way all TV should come to viewers. So every night I read and listen to Jazz with Bob Parlocha on the local WUIS FM station. Why? Because I can’t receive WILL from Champaign-Urbana on my home radio. I DO enjoy
Parlocha’s Mainstream Jazz where most of the Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius tunes sound like they were arranged for high school bands. It’s good company though.

AeroKnow Museum continues as a solo “performance.” I am making real progress but still have not connected with a volunteer to help in the downstairs office while I make REAL progress upstairs. If kind words were groceries, I’d be dining on rib-eyes and cauliflower with cheese sauce every night with apple pie and Port for desert.

My friend Dale Jensen has posted videos of my reciting Vachel Lindsay poems onto YouTube. He has a camcorder and know-how. I have neither. Search on YouTube for Job Conger and let me know what you think.

It hasn’t helped at all that my friend Dennis Camp died October 3. I took an Illinois Poets class when I was attending Sangamon State University; later got to know him as a Vachel Lindsay scholar without equal. I read about his death October 5 when the State Journal-Register published a two-sentence obituary and could not believe my eyes. Later, at a gallery reception I learned how he died from a friend, closer to the truth than I,  info not yet public, though I’m sure it will be sometime.

On a positive note, I finished and published my new book about my trip to Ohio to read Vachel Lindsay’s poem “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed, Part I, Over the Appalachian Barricade” at the rededication of the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio and again at grave site in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Those reading this blog in the nether regions of the world should know “Johnny Appleseed” was the nickname of John Chapman.

On October 22, I will recite the poem I read last March in Ohio and offer my book — a chap book really — for sale. It’s complete with color pictures from Springfield, Illinois, Urbana, Ohio and Ft. Wayne, Indiana and the complete three-part Lindsay poem for $5 each starting October 22 after my presentation.

I’m still working at least four days a week though I am still waiting for permission to deposit checks for the last two pay periods. It is a freaking CIRCUS at my “employer!”

But the my friend from Burgundy, “Carlo Rossi,” and my friend “Peter Pan” — I call him “Chunky” — are providing all the solace and comfort one can ask from a bottle and a jar, and I’d be an ungrateful lucky mother’s son not to appreciate their help.

These are nutty times, but they will do.

Live long . . . . .and proper.

Read Full Post »