27 December 2011

Rediscovering Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay (1897-1931)
“Early in 1914, having heard a young and unknown poet perform in Chicago, W. B. Yeats approached him and asked, ‘What are we going to do to restore the primitive singing of poetry?’ That young poet was Vachel Lindsay. Yeats’ recognition of something unusual in the style of the performance was the beginning of a strange episode in American literary history,” writes T.R. Hummer for Slate.

“A native of Springfield, Ill., Lindsay began his career as a self-avowed “Poe crank,” an acolyte of William Blake, and a firebrand populist/socialist figure, who—unknown to a wider world, but well known at home, though not as a poet—handed out flyers to his neighbors, chastising them for their materialistic conservatism. An early poem reveals him in this mode:”

Why I Voted the Socialist Ticket

I am unjust, but I can strive for justice.
My life’s unkind, but I can vote for kindness.
I, the unloving, say life should be lovely.
I, that am blind, cry out against my blindness.

Man is a curious brute—he pets his fancies—
Fighting mankind, to win sweet luxury.
So he will be, though law be clear as crystal,
Tho’ all men plan to live in harmony.

Come, let us vote against our human nature,
Crying to God in all the polling places
To heal our everlasting sinfulness
And make us sages with transfigured faces.

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