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Friday, May 20, 2011

Number 161: Vachel Lindsay "Factory Windows" and a few more

Factory Windows

Factory windows are always broken.
Somebody's always throwing bricks,
Somebody's always heaving cinders,
Playing ugly Yahoo tricks.

Factory windows are always broken.
Other windows are let alone.
No one throws through the chapel-window
The bitter, snarling, derisive stone.

Factory windows are always broken.
Something or other is going wrong.
Something is rotten--I think, in Denmark.
End of factory-window song.
-- Vachel Lindsay


Would that by Hindu magic we became
Dark monks of jeweled India long ago,
Sitting at Prince Siddhartha's feet to know
The foolishness of gold and love and station,
The gospel of the Great Renunciation,
The ragged cloak, the staff, the rain and sun,
The beggar's life, with far Nirvana gleaming:
Lord, make us Buddhas, dreaming.

-- Vachel Lindsay

The Moon's The North Wind's Cookie

The Moon's the North Wind's cookie.
He bites it, day by day,
Until there's but a rim of scraps
That crumble all away.

The South Wind is a baker.
He kneads clouds in his den,
And bakes a crisp new moon that . . . greedy
North . . . Wind . . . eats . . . again!

-- Vachel Lindsay


Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all,
That which is gendered in the wilderness
From lonely prairies and God's tenderness.
Imperial soul, star of a weedy stream,
Born where the ghosts of buffaloes still dream,
Whose spirit hoof-beats storm above his grave,
Above that breast of earth and prairie-fire —
Fire that freed the slave.

-- Vachel Lindsay

Hap Notes: Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was an event – he didn't just read his poetry aloud, he growled, bellowed, whispered, contorted, huffed, snarled and sang his way through his poetry as he read it. There was/is nobody like him. At least, nobody we would consider sane (not that THAT means anything.)

Lindsay was born in Springfield, Illinois, in a house which formerly belonged to Abe Lincoln's sister-in-law and at the time Lincoln had been a frequent visitor there. I daresay, though, there aren't many folks with a family history in Springfield who don't have similar stories of their brushes with the Lincoln legacy and, in Lindsay's case, it was somewhat influential to his thinking.

His dad was a doctor and it was hoped that Vachel would carry on in his dad's profession. He tried to go to medical school but his heart wasn't in it. After three years at Hiram College in Ohio, he transferred to the Art Institute in Chicago thinking to become an artist. He also studied at the New York School of Art. He illustrated some of his poems and the writing and reciting of his poems became his passion.

Now when I say passion, I mean it. He was a vivid character who was prepared to suffer and die for his art and he meant it. He started off trading his poetry pamphlets for food and shelter, tramped across the country several times to do this and was the bane of his parents' lives for his eccentric and "arty" ways. He was not just the black sheep of his family, he was a whole black farm. He was both highly animated, a fevered speaker, and prone to great depression and...well, we won't go down that road again because you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. (Get sick, get well, hang around a ink well....sorry...had a Dylan moment there.)

His animated poetry readings were popular, striking and bizarre. Here's one of him reading his rhythmic and still controversial poem "The Congo." :

There's no way for me to do justice to Lindsay's life here. He read for president Wilson and the cabinet, he was incredibly famous for his readings, he was respected by no less than William Butler Yeats and Harriet Monroe featured him prominently in Poetry magazine alongside fellow Midwesterners Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg. Teddy Roosevelt called him "Crazier than a bed bug." He had visions, he had flashes of extreme brilliance, he could be belligerent and darkly depressed. He carried a torch for Sarah Teasdale.

He had, no surprise, money problems and as the novelty of his jazzed up, hip-hoppy readings wore off, he found himself trying to forward his "singing" poetry and flailing a bit creatively. When he drank that bottle of Lysol in 1931, he crawled up the stairs of his house to the bedroom in pain and said to his young wife, "They tried to get me – I got them first."

In the selection of poems today, the factory windows poem is saying something about labor in this country, cute as the words are- its intent is serious. I've always loved that moon/cookie poem. And would that we could all rouse the Lincoln in us, eh? Lindsay's poetic output is extraordinary and varied from light verses to seriously deranged and brilliant ("Kallyope Yell" is awe striking.) You're never gonna understand it all-- just read it for the rhythms, the sounds, the vibrancy and color of the words. Once you enter into the brain of Lindsay, you will never be the same again.

He was prescient about movies and wrote one of the first books of cinematic criticism. He said the "new millennia" (the year 2000) would be ushered in by the movies.

Here's a good Lindsay quote.
About his tramping around the country: "It was a life and death struggle, nothing less. I was entirely prepared to die for my work, if necessary, by the side of the road, and was almost at the point of it at times. . . . [My parents] were certainly at this time intensely hostile to everything I did, said, wrote, thought, or drew. Things were in a state where it was infinitely easier to beg from door to door than to go home, or even die by the ditch on the highway."

You can find more Lindsay here:

Here's an amazing added treat, some students doing "The Congo"- it's awesome and the words are printed on the screen for you to see their explosive content. Lindsay would be beaming:

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