(1879-1931) Vachel Lindsay was a midwestern poet who achieved great fame from 1914 through the 1920s for his rhythmic verse, which he performed with great skill and vigor. In the latter part of the 20th century his work fell out of favor, largely because of racist overtones, particularly in the poem "The Congo" (1914). In the 1990s critics took a more balanced approach to Lindsay's work. He was identified with two other Illinois populist poets whose work also appeared in the Chicago-based magazine Poetry: Carl sandburg and Edgar Lee masters.
Lindsay was born in Springfield, Illinois. In 1913 his poem, "General William Booth Enters into Heaven," was awarded a prize as the best poem Poetry magazine had published that year, and it became the title poem of his first commercially published book. In 1915 Poetry chose "The Chinese Nightingale" as the best poem published that year. In 1929 Poetry gave him a special award for lifetime achievement.
During most of his career, Lindsay toured tirelessly across the United States and eventually visited Europe and China. He recited his rhymed and emphatically rhythmic poetry in an expressive way that charmed audiences. In the summers of 1906, 1908, and 1912, Lindsay took walking tours all over the South, Midwest, and West, bartering self-published pamphlets of poetry or reciting his poems in return for room and board. The tours also resulted in two prose books about his experiences. After his poetry brought him fame, his income came largely from his recitations. On December 5, 1931, Lindsay committed suicide by drinking disinfectant.
Lindsay's poetry, typically in short, rhymed lines, is often characterized by sentimentality about children, as for example, "In Memory of a Child" (1914), which ends, "The angels guide him now, / And watch his curly head." Lindsay's populist political views also anchor much of his poetry, such as his poems celebrating Abraham Lincoln and William Jennings Bryan.
"When Bryan Speaks" (1915) describes the voice of three-time presidential candidate Bryan as a "strange composite" of the millions of "singing souls / Who made world-brotherhood their choice."
The controversy over "The Congo" centers on the racial stereotyping of Africans in the poem, as in the opening line, "Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room." W. E. B. DuBois, African-American sociologist and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said Lindsay knew only two things about African Americans, "The beautiful rhythm of their music and the ugly side of their drunkards and outcasts" (182). Ironically the emphasis on the African Americans' enthusiasm for rhythm in the poem is echoed by Lindsay's own tendency to emphasize rhythm in his poems, as in the repetition of the line "Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you." Nonetheless Lindsay was, in some senses, a liberal-minded man widely regarded in his own time as antiracist. In War Bulletins (1909), he had attacked racial prejudice, along with greed and urbanization, and DuBois himself had praised the treatment of African Americans in Lindsay's story, "The Golden-Faced People" (1909).
Lindsay "discovered" Langston hughes when Hughes, who was serving as a waiter at a banquet Lindsay attended, gave Lindsay some of his poems. Although Lindsay did not know it, Hughes's first book, The Weary Blues (1926), had already been accepted for publication by Alfred A. Knopf. Lindsay's enthusiasm for Hughes's writing, however, suggests that Hughes rightly judged Lindsay to be a sympathetic reader. Lindsay's work, while it sometimes chooses style over substance, remains entertaining to read or listen to and is often charming in its spaciousness. His engagement with the race question makes his life and work an interesting study in the complications of the attitudes of his time.
DuBois, W. E. B., "The Looking Glass: Literature." Crisis
12.4 (August 1916): 182. Lindsay, Vachel. "The Golden-Faced People." War Bulletin
No. 1 (Springfield, Illinois, 1909): 1-4. Massa, Ann. Vachel Lindsay, Fieldworker for the American Dream. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1970.
LOBA DIANE DI PRIMA (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1998) When book I (which includes previously published and new sections) of Loba appeared in 1978, this serial work was "hailed by many as the great female counterpart to Allen ginsbergs howl (Clark) (see long and serial poetry); according to the Jungian analyst Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, the 1998 volume of books I and II belongs "beside Whitman's Leaves of Grass and H. D.'s Trilogy—poems that transform consciousness" (147), and Jack Foley likewise declares that it "takes its place with other life-challenging, life changing works of the twentieth century: [Ezra] pounds cantos, [Charles] olson's maximus [poems], [Gertrude] stein's 'Cubist' prose."
There is an explicit and expansive gathering of ideas and myths in the work; after all, the mythical Loba is a gatherer, whose "purpose is to collect and preserve" (Clark). The scope of Diane DI prima's book is vast; the object of Loba is to disrupt norms and assumptions in order to create new ways of seeing the female and her roles through an alchemy of myth, to make "a new / creation myth" (part 1), not to revise an old one.
To this end di Prima overturns traditional modes of progression in the poem. Times, places, and figures are thrown into the mix; for the development of an achronic, ageographic strategy; thus "chinook / breezes from Eden" (part 6) locates the paradise garden near the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Loba is anything but linear narrative, anything but predictable. Divided into two books, each consisting of 8 parts (averaging 15 pages each), the structure itself is unpredictable: Some pieces are titled, and some are not: Some of the epigraphs are historical, and some are imaginary (such as that by a Jungian scholar): Some of the text is italic, and some plain: Sometimes the voice speaks to the Loba, sometimes speaks of the Loba, and sometimes is the Loba speaking: Sometimes the Loba doesn't seem to be anywhere around, as di Prima dips into her net and brings up Persephone or Kali or Guinevere or any of the approximately 130 figures she lists in one piece of part 3.
In part 1 the Loba has tidy animal feet; in part 2 she is wearing traditional aboriginal clothing but changes into 1950s teen garb on the next page. In part 1 she has the flaccid breasts of an elderly woman, but in part 2
these breasts have the newness and firmness of youth. In these and other ways, di Prima denies her readers any chance of identifying the female archetype of this poem with any single mythical figure of choice. Although Mary of Nazareth is the focus of part 6, it is clear that Mary is not the archetype, but only a fragment of her; part 15 turns to Kali and delivers a sequence of hymns and prayers. The female in this poem takes as many guises as possible and is as capable of violence and destruction as she is capable of childbirth and nurturing. While the maternal function is not erased, it is placed in a perspective with the other aspects of the female. Through the Loba, the female is shown to be a creature of appetites and possibilities. She is no longer confined to feminine stereotypes or constrained by gender-based strictures. Instead "no one / is depicted here" (part 12), nor can she be labelled by the usual terms designated for social and familial relationship roles (part 14)—she is not derivative or dependent or definable. "She is formless / or that She is all forms" (part 15).
Not surprisingly, red, the signature color of women in mythology, has a subtle symbolic value as the female is repeatedly clothed or accessorized in red (part 14), the uterus likened to a precious red stone (part 13), and, "ropes of blood cover her breasts and her wide hips / like red flowers" (part 15). To be female is to bleed, and because blood is the sign of woman, di Prima stresses it as the unbreakable connector every woman has with the overarching Woman (part 16). The collective sign of the female is transitory, however. In the lines "Forty years it took / for the napkin to fall from my eyes" (part 3), di Prima refers to menopause, the great hormonal shift that allows for new ways of being for women. In the poem, however, the postmen-strual female discovers that "There is no myth / for this older ample woman" (part 16), and she needs one.
The Loba appears in order to redress the imbalance and to validate the worth of those whose cultural, pro-creative, and erotic value have been lost. The three-page "Apparuit" in part 14 speaks of the female self as equally able to handle "the spear / the harp the book the butterfly," as a peaceful but not passive self. Loba is complicated, perplexing, and demanding; it must be to achieve its goal of rupturing the established order and providing a female-oriented vision.
Brainard, Dulcy. Review of Loba, by Diane di Prima. Publisher's Weekly 245.26 (June 29, 1998): 53. Clark, Audrey M. Review of Loba, by Diane di Prima. Rambles: A Cultural Arts Magazine. Available online. URL: http://rambles.net. Downloaded November 2001. Foley, Jack. Review of Loba, by Diane di Prima. Alsop Review. Available online. URL: www.alsopreview.com. Downloaded November 2001. Lowinsky, Naomi Ruth. Review of Loba, by Diane di Prima. Psychological Perspectives 39 (summer 1999): 146-147.
A. Mary Murphy
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