Sunday, February 28, 2010

Photo of the Week 2/28/10

Fuel Tanks at Long Valley Farm Supply, 2/24/10

&: Happy Birthday to my mom, Bette Hayes, who is 94 years young today! I don't believe she'll have access to a computer until next weekend, but couldn't let such a big event go unmentioned.

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's called "My Funny Valentine."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sepia Saturday 2/27/10


Happy Saturday, everybody! I’m posting my Sepia Saturday contribution bright & early this morning—at least bright & early if you’re in the western half of North America. I should mention this will be my last Sepia Saturday for a few weeks—as regular blog readers know, I’ll be on a road trip east until late in March, so I won’t be posting again for Sepia Saturday until March 27th at the earliest, & possibly not until the first Saturday in April. I will try to check in, but weekends are booked pretty solidly throughout the trip.

I’m posting my parents’ wedding picture today in honor of my mother’s 94th birthday tomorrow—yes, folks, that’s not a type: nine-four. My dad passed away in 2005, but he was well into his 92nd year when he died. They were married on November 9, 1941, & had been married for slightly over 64 years when he passed away.

The marriage took place in Quincy, Massachusetts in the home of my maternal grandparents, the Atkinsons (Joseph & Inez), & the honeymoon took my mother & father to Niagara Falls; as I have the story, my dad sold the Leica camera he used to take the photos you’ve seen here in the Dad’s Photos series to finance the trip. They had some car trouble around Albany, New York & didn’t make Niagara until the second day.

My father enlisted in the Navy in 1942 & was sent to Midway Island. My mother stayed in Leominster, Massachusetts where she was working, but moved to San Leandro in 1944 when my father came stateside on leave. She stayed in California “for the duration,” eventually moving down to Ventura. My father returned to Ventura in 1945, & somewhat to my mother’s chagrin, I suspect, they packed the car & headed back for the east, to settle in my father’s home state of Vermont.

Please take some time to check out other Sepia Saturday participants.

“My Muse”


Happy Friday evening, folks! I’m a bit ahead of time on the Weekly Poem post because I think it’s been a bit confusing the last couple of weeks with the Weekly Poem coming up Saturday morning & Sepia Saturday posting on Saturday afternoon. At least one blog friend briefly thought I might be related to Stevie Smith! So Sepia Saturday will be posted tomorrow morning & will be the post of the day.

Which brings me to another subject. I’ve been running the Weekly Poem series since Robert Frost’s Banjo started in the summer of 2008; I’ll be honest—I got the idea from another blog, Haphazard Gourmet Girls which, also to be honest, influenced a few structral aspects of Robert Frost’s Banjo. That blog is no longer in existence however; its founder has gone on to different things, quite important in their own right.

Anyway, having given credit where credit was due, I should say that at this point I’m suspending the Weekly Poem series after this week. It’s great having all this poetry on Robert Frost’s Banjo, but at this point between my poems & B.N.’s poems & L.E. Leone’s poems & the Weekly Poem—well, that’s a lotta poems & not so much banjo, so to speak. I know the blog vacillates between more or less poetry & more or less music depending on where my head is at, but it seems pretty far to the poetry side right now, & hey, I'll be a performing musician again in 6 weeks, so I need to get my musical brain kick started too!

Frankly, I’m also somewhat concerned with copyright issues. Most of the poems posted as part of the Weekly Poem series are copyrighted works, & while I could make the argument that any accompanying write-up would make this “fair use,” that rarely holds water; the argument that posts such as this might actually increase an author's sales overall seems inescapably valid, but has no standing. I may consider posting a Poem of the Month, since less frequent posts might fly a bit more under the radar.

So this is not only the wind-up of our look at Stevie Smith, but also a wind-up of regularly scheduled “name” poetry here for a bit at least. & it’s a great one to end on—we can even ask: is it a poem at all? That’s one of my favorite kinds of poems! It is a beautiful piece of writing & meditation on the Ars Poetica. Hope you enjoy it!

My Muse

Here are some of the truths about poetry. She is an Angel, very strong. It is not poetry but the poet who has a feminine ending, not the Muse who is weak, but the poet. She makes a strong communication. Poetry is like a strong explosion in the sky. She makes a mushroom shape of terror and drops to the ground with a strong infection. Also she is a strong way out. The human creature is alone in his carapace. Poetry is a strong way out. The passage out that she blasts is often in splinters, covered with blood; but she can come out softly. Poetry is very light-fingered, she is like the god Hermes in my poem ‘The Ambassador’ (she is very light-fingered). Also she is like the horse Hermes is riding, this animal is dangerous….

Poetry does not like to be up to date, she refuses to be neat. (‘Anglo-Saxon’, wrote Gavin Bone, ‘is a good language to write poetry in because it is impossible to be neat.’) All the poems Poetry writes may be called, ‘Heaven, a Detail’, or ‘Hell, a Detail’. (She only writes about heaven and hell.) Poetry is like the goddess Thetis who turned herself into a crab with silver feet, that Peleus sought for and held. Then in his hands she became first a fire, then a serpent, then a suffocating stench. But Peleus put sand on his hands and wrapped his body in sodden sacking and so held her through all her changes, till she became Thetis again, and so he married her, and an unhappy marriage it was. Poetry is very strong and never has any kindness at all. She is Thetis and Hermes, the Angel, the white horse and the landscape. All Poetry has to do is to make a strong communication. All the poet has to do is listen. The poet is not an important fellow. There will always be another poet.

Stevie Smith


(Those who are curious can read more about Thetis & Peleus here & here). I once wrote a poem on the subject, but it was one of those early works best to refer to & not to proffer!

& the Winner Is... February 26 edition


Mornin'! This was supposed to be up a bit earlier, but there were "technical problems...." Namely, the short video I made this morning announcing the winner refuses to upload in a reasonable amount of time either directly thru Blogger or thru YouTube. Why? No idea—it's not like I was trying to upload a Cecil B. DeMille epic. This being the case, & since I need to leave for the wilds of Ontario, Oregon in the next quarter hour, I'll announce the winner "the old fashioned way."

There were just two entrants in this week's Giveaway Contest, Willow & Totalfeckineejit, both long-time supporters of Robert Frost's Banjo. As it turns out, when I purchased books for Eberle & myself & friends I also purchased 3 extra books for giveaway contests. If you've been following along, you know one of these was given away last week. So, with two contest books remaining & with two entrants....the winner is....

Willow!
&
Totalfeckineejit!

If you'd both contact me at robertfrostbanjo@gmail.com with your respective email addresses, I'll get the books in the mail to you as soon as I can.

Hope all of you wonderful folks who do have a copy of The Days of Wine & Roses are enjoying it, & I hope others will consider buying it, which you can do at the product page on lulu.com. Also, for those who do have the book, or will in the future, please consider either writing a review or rating it (or both!) at that same page. Many, many thanks to Audrey Bilger, who's done just that!

Friday Blues Jukebox #4 – Gospel Edition

Happy Friday morning folks! I’m trying something a little different this time around on the Friday Jukebox—no commentary, just tunes, with performer & song listed, & links in case you want to explore further.

This will be the last Friday Blues Jukebox until I’m back from next month’s road trip. Hope you enjoy the music!

John the Revelator: Blind Willie Johnson



Jesus is a Dying Bed-Maker: Charlie Patton



Twelve Gates to the City: Reverend Gary Davis





Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grace #1

A smoky-gray evening fraught with black-headed grosbeaks, when time passes thru you & casts a shadow—you’re at the confluence of what must be & what might—& radio voices echoing in outer space beyond the cell tower glinting in blush rose sunset atop the mesa

You could reach for the sky but you couldn’t touch it—the phosphorescent planet off to your left—the thin dime moon to your right—the smoky-gray air fraught with hummingbirds & a helicopter’s fixed pulse—you can hardly help but think about deserts: crows swooping giddy over Owyhee fossils & petrified wood & the one diner standing wooden & tin-roofed between Jordan Valley & McDermitt—spiked Joshua Tree March blooms & an abandoned diner its windows boarded with plywood at the Mohave’s northern edge—a black upholstered armchair on the porch in a Nevada ghost town—the sunrise whitewashing mineral deposits across rocks & sand & hot springs

A serving of coconut cream pie in a chrome & linoleum diner in Needles, CA—a wrong turn at Barstow towards the City of Angels—an angel-winged begonia blooming in a February corner beside a glass-top table—a piper betle’s heart-shaped leaves spilling off a shelf below an icon of Our Lady of Mercy—a mulberry dress with gray print a china bust of the BVM a dormant poplar—time passing thru you & casting an echo across the porch

Jack Hayes
© 2010

A new sequence of four poems that I'll be posting here & there over the next couple of weeks. By the way, if you want to enter for the Days of Wine & Roses book giveaway, best drop by Eberle's Platypuss-in-Boots blog & leave a comment on today's post &/or Monday's. Limit two entries per person, one entry per comment mentioning the giveaway on each post!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Adams County Makes the News – Introduction – 4

[Here's the final installment of Eberle's introduction to Adams County Makes the News; posts of the actual letters will start next Wednesday]

Looking back over a hundred years of newspaper material, there are some surprises about what has changed and what hasn’t changed. The voice chiding county residents who go out of town to shop in 1902 has a distinct echo in the new millennium—and there is a slight shock in recognizing that the seemingly contemporary issue of “retail leakage” in rural Idaho goes so far back. This is one of many realms of concern in the county newspaper that have stayed constant over time. Other aspects of the newspaper have changed a great deal. A variety of national services provided the paper, and still do, with “filler” material—quotes and anecdotes and curious facts, convenient for filling up blank spaces left between articles in the paper’s weekly lay-out. I was surprised by the amount of casual racism and sexism in the short anecdotes used as filler in the past—the irrationality and cupidity of women is often a source of “humor,” as is the cunning laziness of blacks. I have not included any of this, or other, filler material, since my focus has been on local writers—who apparently accepted the presence of racist or sexist anecdotes as filler in the paper, while rarely expressing these prejudices in their own writings. Staff at the newspaper today describe the filler that is selected as falling into several main categories: science, self-improvement, business, and “country wisdom;” these were common in the past as well.

I was also surprised to find out that there was much more live music and entertainment in the Council area at the beginning of the twentieth century than there is today. As a musician, I felt a
definite pang reading a request of local businesses to give “liberal support” to local musicians—and at the regularity of dances with live music. When the town invited the CCC camp to a celebration, local poet and songwriter Orianna Martin composed a song in their honor and the lyrics were published in the paper. But times have changed. The People’s Theatre—once the site of shows by Miss Willey the world-famous whistler from California, operettas by the high school, and movies such as “Park Avenue Logger” with locally provided musical accompaniment-- has languished abandoned for years down the street from the Adams County Record office. In addition to shows and dances, a significant part of entertainments offered locally included school programs, debates, and talks by local or visiting speakers. A debate on prohibition held in 1909 was packed with area residents, the paper reported. In 1911: “Mrs. C. W. Wight will give a lecture at the Congregational church December 14. Her subject will be ‘What is Woman.’ This lecture will be both humorous and instructive and everybody is cordially invited to attend.” The newspaper, as history, has the ability to recapture some of the more ephemeral aspects of daily life and include them as part of a community portrait.

The local focus of the Adams County paper makes for a particular perspective on political history. Issues that may be considered major in the early twentieth century, such as women’s suffrage and prohibition, take on a local slant. For instance, when women got the vote, an article on the subject was reprinted from an urban newspaper, but there was no wave of editorials and letters specifically addressing the event. However, anxiety about gender issues surfaces at that time in jokes about women in town bobbing their hair, in a facetious suggestion to have a local beauty contest for men, and an editorial questioning why most of the organizations in town are run by women.

Adams County in the twenties experiences a truly remarkable surge of club activity for women,
with groups including the PTA, Ladies Aid, Red Cross, Worthwhile Club, Indian Valley Improvement Club, Bluebirds, Rebekahs, Witness, Women’s Auxiliary, and Royal Neighbors. The exact nature of all these groups is not clear from the newspaper record, but they identify themselves as groups to promote social good. Nonetheless, some doubts, apparently, had to be assuaged. In 1928: “Next Tuesday evening will be a red letter time for husbands of these beautiful ladies of the Worthwhile Club. Said husbands may have wondered many times during the past year what it is all about—this club business—but now they are going to be shown. It is the first annual banquet in honor of the husbands of the club members.” Prohibition receives more attention as a national phenomenon, but much of the commentary on this topic as well has to do with its local effects—an argument that Valley and Adams counties could not be merged because Valley is “wet” while Adams is “dry”; a letter from a local doctor deploring cases of alcoholism in Council before prohibition.

Other on-going themes in the first decades of the twentieth century include transportation, education, grazing and farming legislation—topics that continue with some degree of similarity
today. Roads and the railroad take up a large share of discussion. Concerns over local natural resources are also voiced, but I was surprised by the differences between what those concerns used to be and what they are today. It is interesting to see that in the past, regulation of resource use didn’t necessarily spark the kind of anger that it can currently in the newspaper. I wouldn’t have expected to find such early tolerance of many Forest Service regulations—restrictions on fishing and fire building, for example. In 1919, violation of the order not to build fires on forest land “subjects an offender to a fine of up to $5,000 or ten months in a tomb of reflection, or both.” City ordinances on water conservation, restricting the time and days when irrigation could take place, were enforced by the village marshal in 1928. Locals recognized that over-use of resources would be a bad thing, and supported stream closures (although they blamed dwindling fish populations on over-fishing by tourists.) Similarly, there are letters both for and against killing animals such as bear or beaver. What’s remarkable is the absence of a group identified as hostile to local interests and labeled “environmentalists”—a perceived opposition that often dominates present-day local discussion about the use of natural resources.

The biggest conflict over natural resources expressed in the newspapers is the great huckleberry dispute of the late twenties. The huckleberry patch in question was one in the midst of sheep-grazing allotments that had been left voluntarily free of sheep so the public could pick berries
there as well as camp and fish. The trouble started when a Forest Service supervisor, Mr. Rice, told grazers that if they didn’t actively use that part of their allotment, their allotment next year would be reduced by that amount. Things became very personal: “We understand Mr. Rice is from Kansas, where they raise huckleberries only in barrels. Mr. Rice seems to think that twelve cents a season for grazing sheep mounts up on four sections to huge sums, and he says that amount of land cannot be spared from the sheep to furnish a few thousand people with huckleberries and the incidental recreation of camping and picking them.… The Leader believes Mr. Rice is wrong. Mr. Rice intimates that there is only one person interested in huckleberries, and that that one person is an ignorant faultfinder. The editor wants to add at least one more ignorant faultfinder to the list.” The use of regulations to threaten a traditional local use of the land seems to have infuriated people in a way that other restrictions did not, and the furor didn’t end until that supervisor left town.

The process of editing newspaper material for this collection was influenced by the vision that I came to have of the material as a kind of community memoir. Memoirs inevitably involve
omissions, and I have left out a great deal of material in order to follow what to me appeared to be vital and engaging threads and voices. I also made a decision to limit this collection to the first four decades of the paper’s history. I found this material to have an almost narrative cohesion, documenting the development of the first phase of the region’s economy. The thirties brought the first wave of “bust” after a series of hopeful “booms”—the agricultural ventures and local businesses that grew up in the wake of mining interests, as well as the once flourishing Mesa Orchards, all suffered decline during the depression. The next wave of boom and bust, associated with the timber industry, was just beginning at the end of the thirties and would create a different phase of the area’s identity. Focusing on the early decades made it possible to convey a detailed portrait of that era in the newspaper’s history.

To me one of the most interesting things about the newspapers is seeing how the use of language varies over the decades, making word-portholes back into time. It’s interesting to consider that application forms used to be called application blanks, and that an angel food cake pan was called a Turk’s head pan. Reading a phrase such as, “He sat in the saddle with the dignity of a bedbug on a hairpin,” is to experience armchair-travel back into time. The continuity of certain voices and usage is intriguing as well. People used to use the word “country” to mean region—the “country newspaper,” for instance, meaning the Adams County Leader, and people still use the
word in this way: the “lower country” for Weiser and Boise, and “this country” for the local area. There are voices, too, which recur and seem constant over time: the voice that exhorts community effort, the voice of personal outrage, the voice that deplores gossip, and the voice that thanks the community for help during times of hardship.

Sorting the Adams County newspaper material has been, for me, archeology of a very amateur kind. I have enjoyed it in the same way that I like to poke around in an old homestead dump near my house
where tin cans and broken bits of china spark my imagination, not because of their rarity or exoticism, but because of the opposite. Their everydayness and their proximity to where I live are what intrigue me. This book comes from my curiosity about what is near instead of what is farfrom seeking for the mystery in what is close to home, the beauty and value of what is close at hand.

Eberle Umbach
© 2003-2010

Pix from Top
A Pizza Restaurant for Sale in Downtown Council
The People's Theater, Council
The Ace Saloon & Branding Iron Restaurant, Council
The Weiser River in Fruitvale (north of Council)
Sheep on an Indian Valley Ranch
A View to Indian Valley from Our Upper Pasture
An Old Bottle in the "Homestead Dump"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Beautiful Mind"

[Here's L.E. Leone's latest, & a beautiful & heartbreaking poem at that. Enjoy.]

Beautiful Mind

It’s a beautiful mind, really, that can look out
the window of a train from Regensburg
to Ingolstat for forty years, see
hunter’s deer stands
on the edges of clearings, and think
they are fire lookouts. To not
see, on the other hand, the shelves of
Jesus books at the uke shop, sure

the uke store man is joking when he
wonders if you pray. His shop, in fact
a front for Bible Study classes,
beautiful mind. A beautiful mind makes
stories out of nothing, and nothing

out of hard news, hot soup, true love, great sex. Shocked,
my pink toenails on a windowsill in France, the warmth
and smell of coffee
over sunrise over sailboat masts over the roof
of a barn, where tractors are. Under all

that color in the east, a creative writer
with a beautiful mind sleeps next to an excellent
editor with a beautiful mind while I, a chicken farmer,
farm chickens. France feeds me, the cleaning
of coops and rolling of heads, yes, the way we
weigh what we take away, the livers, gizzards,

the dozens and dozens of hearts I clean, cut,
and cook, with cherry beer and carrots. How I loved you,
how, tell me, am I supposed to believe anything, ever
again, let alone Jesus … fire lookouts … the word wife

Survivers are drawn to the arts, and helping
others, according to psychologists,
but also have a tendency to reinvent the Catherine
Wheel. Or richtrad, in German. They’re who

invented it.
And psychotherapy. Beautiful minds.
A beautiful mind gave me a diary
for Christmas, dumped me on New
Year’s, declared me mentally unstable by
Epiphany. Sat. 1/9 I can’t believe it.

Sun. 1/10 I can’t believe it.
Mon. 1/11 I can’t believe it.
Tue. 1/12, Nope. Can’t believe it.
Wed. 1/13, Still can’t believe it
Thu. 1/14, I can’t believe it
Fri. 1/15, I can’t believe it, that person

next to you is bad
in bed, worse in the kitchen, can live
without you, had the bad sense to say
so and this poem, finished on Friday,
February 12, proves I’m
the better editor.

L.E. Leone
© 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Helix Poems

Helix #10

A blue enameled dutch oven
A locomotive’s slurred whistle thru a humid night
A mailbox on a post against a white sky

A propane truck marooned on a dirt road
A bottomless skyblue skyhigh June day
So this is the vew from forever

A name you’ve despised since childhood
A field of Black-Eyed Susans & Indian Paintbrush
An adjective an adverb a proper noun

A fireworks display at the valley’s southern
extreme A sky folding its violet petals
So this is what forever looks like from here

A bruised July sky thru interminable twilight
You were gone & you were so sad
A white sundress a white cumulous cloud

A white t-shirt white cigarette paper a white car
So this is the view from forever
A dogwood blooming a quarter mile distant

A white plate a white page speckled with words
Snow on Council Mountain dyed orange at sunset
A redwinged blackbird’s slurred whistle

A poem that doesn’t get written
A blue-green eucalyptus next to Fell Street
A verb an adverb a proper name

A black paperback a blue jumper a white shirt
A pergola exploding with pink roses
You want to be believed a white page

So this is the vew from forever
So this is what forever looks like from here
So this is what we mean when we say


Helix #11

A green rowboat
A flowering quince beside stone steps
A 5:00 a.m. silence punctuated with keystrokes

A large steel mailbox a trellised breezeway
A matchstick shade against the eastern sky
A portion of silence

A green August twilight a whippoorwill’s yodel
A whole tone scale on a console piano
You are here & you are not here

A radio signal traveling beyond the solar system
Ranch lights glinting green along the ridge
An Eb drone on a haromonium

You are here & you are not
A magnolia leaf fallen glossy on the walkway
A white car a sky of white cirrus an anxiety disorder

An instance of silence in motion
A cell tower on the mesa against a melon sunrise
A sound wave cycling in a square white room

You are here the melon sunrise over Lake Erie
You are walking you are driving your car
A sound wave cycling an unsolvable laughter

An instance of recognition as always uncanny
A crepe myrtle giddy with blossoms
A street lamp rooted in concrete

A barbed wire fence leaning from snow weight
A film’s blue ghost light a red theater chair
A sign stating You are here

Jack Hayes
© 2010

[By the by: if you're interested in the Days of Wine & Roses book giveaway or if you'd like to hear my interview with the famed Lambchop, please check out Eberle's Monday post on Platypuss-in-Boots! If you'd like to enter the book giveaway, please be sure to leave a comment & to mention your interest in the giveaway in that comment. Comments on the contest may be left anytime from now thru Thursday!]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Photo of the Week 2/21/10


Old Barn in Lake Fork, 2/17/10

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's called "Song," & it's one of the shorter poems in The Days of Wine & Roses.

You'll also find information on our second (& probably final) book giveaway contest, in which you could win a copy of yours truly's The Days of Wine & Roses (the book)!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sepia Saturday 2/20/10

Happy Saturday again, folks! I’m back with some of my dad’s photos he took during a trip in 1939 to see the New York World’s Fair. In case you didn’t know—I certainly did not—the fair’s theme that year was “Dawn of a New Day,” & with “the eyes of the Fair…on the future,” it focused on “World of Tomorrow.” Interestingly, to me at least, none of the photos I have show the fair itself. Until I see some other photos when visiting my mother next month, I can’t say for sure whether this was just “luck of the draw” on the photos I received or if my shutterbug dad actually didn’t take photos at the fair. That seems rather unlikely.
The fair ran from April to October in both 1939 & 1940; this pretty well dates my father’s photos to September 1939, since he wrote “Fall ‘39” on the back of each. He was one of 44 million visitors to the exhibition, which has since been memorialized in such diverse works as Alfred Hitcock’s Mr & Mrs Smith, E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair, & Aimee Mann’s Fifty Years After the Fair—just to name a few.

The shots of New York City my father did capture say quite a bit about his interests. Both the photo of the Henry Hudson Parkway & the photo of the George Washington Bridge are structural, & my father was most certainly a builder at heart. He built everything from houses, boats & cabinets to clocks, wooden marble runs (I forget the German name for these), limberjacks, & whirlygigs or windmills (the wooden contraptions with a propeller that can be a man chopping wood or a woman churning butter). In fact, he was accepted to the Colorado School of Mining with the intent of obtaining an engineering degree, but was unable to attend due to his family’s poverty. There’s little doubt that he had the mind of an engineer.

The photo of the boats on the Hudson shows another of my father’s most keen interests—boating, & especially boating with the intent of fishing. I have never known anyone as obsessed with fishing as my father! He continued to fish until he was around 90 years old in fact, by this time having relocated to Florida & fishing in the Gulf. One upshot of this was that my family ate inordinate quantities of fish when my sister & I were growing up, & neither of us cares much for fish at this point! He used to talk about sailing when he was stationed in the Phillipines during World War II—one of his pleasant war memories, & one of the few that he’d talk about. He also built a wonderful boat that we used for fishing & waterskiing & pleasure rides—it was called the “Off We Go,” driven by an old 30-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor.

Hope you enjoy the photos!

“Tender Only to One”


Good morning everybody. Yours truly is kind of bushed from various travels over the past week, but I’m (more or less) up & running for the Weekly Poem, & will also be contributing to Sepia Saturday later today—probably early afternoon out here in the forgotten time zone, Mountain Standard.

Our look at Stevie Smith continues with a lyric poem—the title piece to her 1938 collection, Tender Only To One. This poem, which is a particular favorite of Eberle’s, transforms the children’s flower game of “he loves me, he loves me not” into a rather chilling exercise—Death was one of Smith’s most often treated subjects, & in this case it becomes the occasion for producing a love poem. In fact, Smith had what some might consider a morbid fascination with death—she described death in other poems as “the only god who must come when he is called” & claimed to look on death as a consolation & release.

To my mind, there’s considerable power in the directness & apparent simplicity of Smith’s language in this poem, & the five line stanza with the unrhymed refrain is also quite elegant. Hope you enjoy it, & hope to see some of you later on for Sepia Saturday!

Tender Only to One

Tender only to one
Tender and true
The petals swing
To my fingering
Is it you, or you, or you?

Tender only to one
I do not know his name
And the friends who fall
To the petals’ call
May think my love to blame.

Tender only to one
This petal holds a clue
The face it shows
But too well knows
Who I am tender to.

Tender only to one,
Last petal’s latest breath
Cries out aloud
From the icy shroud
His name, his name is Death.

Stevie Smith

Friday, February 19, 2010

& the Winner Is...

Happy Friday morning again, people! Please check out the video to find out the winner of the Days of Wine & Roses book giveaway! Winner: please send your mailing address to rfrostbanjo@gmail.com, & you'll receive your signed & inscribed copy.


video

Let X=X


Happy Friday, everybody! Don’t know how it seems to you, but it seems to me that of late Robert Frost’s Banjo has been very focused on poetry somewhat to the exclusion of music (& other topics!)—with the publication of The Day’s of Wine & Roses & the ongoing Helix sequence, poetry is at the creative forefront for me, especially since I haven’t been performing music this winter.

But I’m starting a new series, with posts at irregular intervals, that may redress the music dearth a bit, while still allowing me to indulge my current poetic spree. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I often listened to music while composing poetry in both my San Francisco & Charlottesville phases, & I thought I’d periodically post some songs that are representative of what that background music was. I won’t be adding any commentary to speak on on the Robert Frost’s Banjo posts—pretty much just a quick howdy & the song, but I will be writing about each song in more detail on the Just a Song blog. Since I seem to have had brainlock during the scheduling process for today's song, the post is already up on Just a Song, & has been for awhile. You can read that post here.

First up: Laurie Anderson—huge influence. I don’t know that a song has moved me before or since in the way “O Superman” did when I first heard it. However, I think her song “Let X=X” was an even more important poetic soundtrack. The verson below is from her Big Science album, tho there’s also a great version on her United States Live. Note: the ending of the song is a bit abrupt in the video—a fade out might have been better. Otherwise, tho, the sound quality is good. Hope you enjoy it.




Thursday, February 18, 2010

Adams County Makes the News – Introduction – 3

[Part 3 (of 4) of Eberle’s Introduction to Adams County Makes the News]

Myths about rural life abound—the invention of the Wild West is just one of them. I often come across the idea, both among city and country folks, that a rural town is basically like a city, only smaller and less advanced, less sophisticated—that the differences between a city and a rural area can all be accounted for if you simply scale down the urban reality and take into consideration the rural area’s backwardness. To me this is a strange misapprehension, and somewhat mysterious. It’s as if a cloak of invisibility covers the rural experience. On television, for instance, you don’t see many western North American rural towns on commercials that make use of rural imagery—although exotic rural communities are quite fashionable just now (an SUV driving through a computer-generated wilderness to a third world village market.) The Wild West myth surfaces on occasion in commercials that make use of rural imagery—spewing mountain sunsets and cowboys—and in shows, the stereotyped country hick versus city slicker set-up isn’t dead yet. But beyond that, the veil of obscurity falls with an almost audible thud. In fact, it could be that the national consumer market of rural towns is so negligible that rural life is heading toward some kind of media extinction—not necessarily a bad thing. But it would be convenient if there were a word to describe those realities which take place in the shadow of looming myths—the lost Atlantises that are thriving, invisibly, among us—because I think that they exist in abundance.

The individualized and local nature of the Adams County newspaper makes it a unique historical record of the community. Editorials, ads, articles, and letters to the editor have the advantage of
representing with word-for-word accuracy what a certain part of the population cared about at the time—the people who wrote to the paper and the editors of the paper. It would not be accurate to say this represents the community in its entirety, because many people don’t write to the newspaper—the prostitutes, for example, who were reported as having a fight in 1902, were not writing letters to the paper. And there are groups which are completely or almost completely unrepresented—children, for instance, or the workers at the Mesa Orchards. Material sent in to the paper is based on the fact that the writer sees her or himself as existing in some relationship to the community—to a certain degree, because of its public nature, the writing is about that relationship.

The newspaper material doesn’t create a complete record of all individuals in the community, or an exhaustive history of the area, but I find the authenticity of the written gestures that have
found their way into the paper very compelling. Everyone who writes for publication in the newspaper, whether a reader or an editor, shares a similar starting point: the decision to make personal thoughts public. The different voices that are generated by that decision, and the range of motivations that prompt it, reveal various dimensions of private and community life over time. As with any history, what is unwritten creates its own spaces between the lines and is part of the experience of reading. To my mind, the kind of gaps and fragments inherent in the county newspaper narrative create a particularly fascinating landscape, a kind of do-it-yourself novel. There are tempting by-ways, and sudden glimpses of remnants of the past, archways framing vistas from half-forgotten points of view, paths to be taken or left behind.

I found myself, for instance, threading together the history of Iola DeGaris between the ads for her millinery shop and her wedding to the “good-natured and popular meat-cutter… and prominent member of the Council band,” Otto E. Brauer. The fate of two Council boys who meet up at the front during World War I has a dramatic poignancy: one is killed shortly afterwards, and the other turns up later in the paper as the village marshal. In 1931, Charlotte Lemon writes a letter to her father, the editor, upbraiding him for reprinting a sexist article—which made me start wondering about her possible influence on his outspoken editorials calling for women’s restrooms in the public buildings of Council. These fragments of lives are compelling to me because they make me realize how much any “objective” history leaves out—not just individual lives, but the unique context of the relationships that have evolved over time within a community.

Reading the county newspaper, where a wide range of individuals and their relationships are
palpably present, creates a humanizing perspective on that period of history— not always a comfortable experience, as some individual voices, untempered by abstraction, can be disturbing. It is one thing, for instance, to know that some people understood and supported the killing of Germans in World War I as justified genocide; it’s another to see that thought process in action in someone’s own words. I found that my own emotional responses to the various narrative voices became integral to this way of reading the past.

Part of the texture of newspaper material as history comes from the juxtaposition of
details—how to use egg-white for mending, what percentage of school children have tuberculosis, who has a rooster for sale, what constitutes profanity, the Council bank failure, who has grown the biggest ears of corn. The juxtaposition of large and small events hints at a sense of scale that I often find lacking in more traditional histories. There is foreground and background, and randomness, and moments of poetry, which I think of as reality haiku. For instance, “news” sent in to the paper from Indian Valley in 1913:

“It is raining today.
Pastures are quite green.
We hope no potatoes are green this time of year.”

What I like about this is the way that the everyday comes into the record of the past, as expressed in the voice of a writer of that time. Diaries or letters involve that kind of writing as well, but from a single point of view. The newspaper material, on the other hand, offers multiple local points of view, unified by the public intent of the writing and the shared community of readers.

Vanished establishments in Council take on life as well, through the patchwork of newspaper
items. The Overland Hotel, for instance, gone for decades now, advertised pack trains into the mining regions; a woman residing there advertised a two-year old baby in need of a home; the price of meals was published, as well as the dates when a traveling optometrist would be there to see residents with eye problems. Facts that might not find their way in to many histories of the early twentieth century West appear in tantalizing detail—that people used to give cracked bones to their chickens instead of oyster shells, that school outhouses for girls and boys had to be fifty feet apart from each other by law, that a piece of brown paper covered with mutton tallow and well sprinkled with ginger was recommended as a chest plaster in cases of whooping cough.

Pix from Top:
Adams County Rodeo Queens, Council, 1997
(despite jpg name!)
Cattle on the upper stretch of Mill Creek Road, Council, 1997
Carved Bear Art, Council, 2000
Our garden shed, 1998
Council Quilt Show, 1998
Adams County Fair, Council, 1997


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy (Belated) Birthday, B.N., & Book Giveaway Update


Friends, I’m here to tell you that I’ve been derelict in my blog host duties! A very key contributor to this blog & a very good friend just has a birthday, & yours truly simply spaced it out—fortunately, B.N. was good-spirited about this oversight.

So please join me in wishing a happy (2-day-belated) birthday & many, many happy returns to B.N., Robert Frost’s Banjo’s own mystery poet & a great friend to me over the space of many years—in fact, I’m very much looking forward to visiting B.N. & her husband Yaakov & their pugs Simon & Olive on my trip east. & thanks again to B.N. for making her beautiful poems available to this blog’s readers.

A bit of news/clarification on the contest. It came up in a comment yesterday that people might be thinking they could only enter a comment on Eberle’s Monday post on Monday itself, & so now a person would be restricted to entering only on the Thursday post. This isn’t the case—you can make one comment entry per post on the Platypuss-in-Boots post for Monday 2/15 &/or Thursday 2/18 (link not available at “press time”) any time between now & midnight tomorrow night. Hope that’s clear. If it’s not clear & you’re interested in the book giveaway, please leave a comment or email me directly at rfrostbanjo@gmail.com.

Remember, comments have to be on Platypuss-in-Boots posts for Monday 2/15 &/or Thursday 2/17, maximum two total entries per person (one comment per post), & the comment really needs to make some reference to the giveaway.

It’s great to see some people express interest in the book, & a few have sold, too, since the giveaway was announced, which is of course really fantastic. Thanks one & all, & good luck both to those already entered & whoever may join them in the last day plus.

Helix #9

A black baseball cap
A puddle reflecting shattered starlight
A green metal patio chair outside the motel

A bottleneck guitar slide whining the octave
A batiked curtain a California poppy
A J-Church streetcar lurching into sunlight

You’re lost inside your life your voice gone husky
A luna moth on a breezeway lattice
A lime green sport coat the cuffs rolled up past the wrists

An outdoor café the streetlights glowing jaundiced
You’re lost inside your life on another street
A koa baritone uke strumming Moon River’s chords

A handpainted teacup a red pincushion
Black cottonwood limbs in 5:00 a.m. jaundiced fog
You’re asleep on a sofa the light an April goldfinch

A passionate kiss without the least recollection
A driftwood log charred black
An order of french toast the sunlight oozing honey

You’re anxious as usual the coffee cup’s bone white
A waxing moon at 3:00 p.m. a cornflower sky unfurled
A teardrop mandolin a red accordion

You’re lost inside life you’re sporting a Panama hat
A island in Lake Champlain a silver thunderhead
A harmonic minor scale a hawthorne bush

The hardest poem you’ll ever write until
The hardest poem you’ll ever write a long goodbye
Your life will you ever waken

Jack Hayes
© 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“The Scent of Vinegar”

[The next B.N. poem—please enjoy!]


The Scent of Vinegar

for simple things,
a child, fortune,
you love a woman
much like yourself.
At night she prays
the whole house smells
of vinegar. She has been
rain. All night long your dreams
rise to the ceiling and evaporate.
By morning the cups
rattle more and more,

setting dyes.

B.N.
© to the author 1983-2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Basin Street Revisited


Mardi Gras is almost upon us, eh? I got my red beans soakin’, so I can do some cookin’ tomorrow! I’d really hoped to record either “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” or “Winin’ Boy Blues” for the occasion but, long story short, that isn’t happening. So with apologies to those who caught it first time around, here’s yours truly with my ’58 Harmony Master archtop doing “Basin Street Blues.” I know it’s a bit mellow for serious partying, but I’m pretty laid back from a musical standpoint!

Also in keeping with the season: If you want to read something just beautiful about New Orleans, please check out today's post at the always entertaining & informative New Orleans Ladder.

Otherwise: Laissez les bons temps rouler!



Book Giveaway!


Happy Monday, everybody! Hope you’re coming out of the weekend chipper & ready for a new week. We’re pretty excited around these parts, because our shipment of my poetry book, The Days of Wine & Roses, arrived by FedEx Friday evening. A few kind friends have already bought copies, which I so much appreciate—many thanks to you! & I hope more of you will as well; there's a link to the lulu page over on the left. But because we’re excited, we want to do a little something to spread the excitement around a bit! More on that in a moment….

The specs: 92 pages, paperback “perfect” binding (your standard paperback set-up), with cover design by yours truly using three of my father’s photos—ones that have appeared on this blog. It contains 48 poems (the sonnet sequence “A Few More Fold-Out Postcard Sonnets” is listed as one entity in the contents, but it’s a series of 19 poems). There’s a bit of old Hollywood, & bit of hard-boiled stuff, a fair amount of surreality, some form, some free verse, some prose poems, long poems, short poems—a bit of something for everyone! These are the poems I wrote while living in San Francisco from 1989 to 1998, plus one from the early 00s in Idaho—so the recent poems that have appeared on this blog won’t be there. But don’t fear: a manuscript containing those is quickly assuming book length & I’ll almost certainly publish it next year.

I’m happy with the book—it’s kind of a big deal for me, because after setting my feet on the track to become a poet in the ivied walls of the academy, I managed to take a pretty sharp detour in the mid 80s—I haven’t regretted that detour as such, but I also know that poetry has often walk hand-in-hand with some pretty significant self-destructive tendencies, & getting this published seems to be a way of seeing myself in a new place with poetry—this is part of the reason why I chose to restrict the book to just San Francisco poems, because what I’ve written from 2008 to the present does seem quite different. By the way, for any completists out there: I have assembled a manuscript of Charlottesville, Virginia poems & I’ll publish that at some point too.

So here’s the deal: you could win a copy of The Days of Wine & Roses signed & inscribed by yours truly & shipped to your place of residence, because we're giving one away. Instructions follow:

1. Simply leave a comment specifying you'd like to enter the giveaway contest on—please note carefully—Eberle’s Platypuss-in-Boots blog post for either today, Monday February 15th (with special guest star Lamb Chop!) or on the upcoming Theme Thursday post for Thursday the 18th
—this week's theme is "Bell," so we'll all look forward to what the Platypuss gang does with that!

2. You folks know I love your comments on Robert Frost's Banjo, but comments on the Banjo won't count toward the contest. Comments for the contest have to be on Platypuss-in-Boots. Only comments mentioning the book giveaway will be entered.

3. Only one comment per post counts toward the contest. So if you leave two comments on Monday but none on Thursday (for instance), you're only entered once. But if you leave a comments on both Monday & Thursday, you're entered twice! You've doubled your chances of winning! See how that works? Two entries maximum per person
—but you'd already figured that out.

4. We’ll keep the contest open until midnight Mountain Standard Time on Thursday February 18th, & then in the pre-dawn gloaming on Friday February 19th Eberle will draw a name from one of my very own hats, which will contain all the entrants' names on slips of paper cut as uniformly as possible with my very own orange-handled scissors. Not as high-tech as random number generators, but there you have it! I'll announce the winner on Robert Frost's Banjo by about midday on Friday.

Good luck one & all, & hope to see you at Platypuss-in-Boots over the next few days!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Photo of the Week 2/14/10

Outhouse at C. Ben Ross Reservoir, Indian Valley 2/13/10
photo taken by Eberle Umbach

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's "The Big Sleep," a poem that was posted some time ago here on the Banjo. Hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sepia Saturday 2/13/10 – or Dad’s Photos Continued


Howdy, folks, & welcome to Sepia Saturday, Robert Frost’s Banjo annex. I’ve been checking out the old photos on some favorite blogs over the past few Saturdays & feeling a little chagrined that I’d used up my store of Dad’s Photos—photographs my father took in the 1930s & very early 1940s—before this event hit blogland.

But as is so often the case, it turned out I was mistaken—there are more photos! & in fact it sounds like I may have access to even more during my visit to my mom next month. There’s a wrinkle, tho—typically, the Sepia Saturday posts are portraits or wedding pictures or group shots—they have recognizable people in them. Not so here—but the photos do tell a story.

In 1939 my dad took an excursion from his Vermont digs to New York City for the World’s Fair. Turns out he asked my mom to accompany him, but for whatever reason (she wasn’t clear on this when she told the story), she declined. It is true that they weren’t married until late in 1941—less than a month before Pearl Harbor Day.

So, where’s the story? My dad has passed on, so I can’t get the story of his time in New York City from him or from any of his friends or from his two brothers. They were all part of a generation that’s disappearing. This is the story: while I can’t tell you the details of his trip—I can only show you a handful of images that he found interesting enough to photograph—I can say that these photos, along with the many I posted in the Dad’s Photos series have given me some insight into a man who was very private & not forthcoming about his autobiography. But in these photos I’ve come to see a glimpse of an adventurous young man, & a young man who loved a good time—perhaps a bit more than was good for him, but still—he was only 25 when he took these shots, not even half my current age: very much different than the man I knew as a small child when he was well into his 40s.

Things happened: a World War, in which he served as a non-combatant in the Seabees, but still in some very harrowing conditions—the Seabees would come onto islands after the battles to build airfields & other infrastructure, & their camps were subject to air raids. He lost his best friend at an early age—because there were too many “good times” for that man. & I think, in retrospect, he wasn’t comfortable with children: not surprising, since he grew up in an atmosphere of poverty & neglect.

But here’s a young man from quaint early 20th century Bellows Falls, VT in the big city—New York, NY
for a World’s Fair. I can imagine the excitement, because at his best, well into his last years, my father was capable of a sort of delightful childi-like excitement that mostly counter-balanced the temper & the withdrawal. Today's three photos show me his excitement at Times Square.
I suppose in some sense any photograph is somehow a portrait of the photographer. I can see my dad in these.

“The Frog Prince”


If it's Saturday, it must be the Weekly Poem—& indeed it is. If you checked in last week, you know that February is all Stevie Smith all the time as far as the Weekly Poem series goes.

Last week’s offering was “The Bereaved Swan,” a poem from Smith’s 1937 collection A Good Time Was Had By All; this week’s poem, “The Frog Prince,” is the title poem to a 1966 collection—so we’ve moved from the very beginning of Smith’s poetic career to a point quite near the end (she died in 1972). Interestingly, the poem again inhabits a fairy tale landscape, at least on the surface. However, while “The Bereaved Swan” delighted in language & humorous rhymes, the voice in “The Frog Prince” is considerably more matter-of-fact—tho the subject matter runs quite deep (certainly much deeper than “The Frog Prince” himself seems to realize). The italicized instances of heavenly give us a clue that “The Frog Prince” is not only about the illusions of romantic love—in typical Stevie Smith fashion, she also moves on to religious love & poses the same questions: what is this truth of this transformation we believe we await? & is our waiting, our belief in the story of transformation, fatuous. Should we be content, each of us, with our lot as frogs.

This will be a busy day on Robert Frost’s Banjo, because this afternoon (2:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) I’ll be posting a Sepia Saturday entry—with more of Dad’s Photos! Hope you can check back in then, but in the meantime, hope you enjoy this marvelous poem.

The Frog Prince
I am a frog
I live under a spell
I live at the bottom
Of a green well

And here I must wait
Until a maiden places me
On her royal pillow
And kisses me
In her father's palace.

The story is familiar
Everybody knows it well
But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
As I do? The stories do not tell,

Ask if they will be happier
When the changes come
As already they are fairly happy
In a frog's doom?

I have been a frog now
For a hundred years
And in all this time
I have not shed many tears,

I am happy, I like the life,
Can swim for many a mile
(When I have hopped to the river)
And am for ever agile.

And the quietness,
Yes, I like to be quiet
I am habituated
To a quiet life,

But always when I think these thoughts
As I sit in my well
Another thought comes to me and says:
It is part of the spell

To be happy
To work up contentment
To make much of being a frog
To fear disenchantment

Says, it will be heavenly
To be set free,
Cries, Heavenly the girl who disenchants
And the royal times, heavenly,
And I think it will be.

Come then, royal girl and royal times,
Come quickly,
I can be happy until you come
But I cannot be heavenly,
Only disenchanted people
Can be heavenly.

Stevie Smith

Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Helix Poems

Helix #7

A steel teakettle
A pair of black-rimmed reading glasses
The willow’s black branches tracing daybreak

A mullberry cotton dress with gray print
A redwood marimba
A poem you wrote when you were someone else

A redwinged blackbird trilling in February gray
Tumbleweeds heaped against a barbed wire fence
A hickory bookcase

An Amtrak coach pulling out in a light mist
You are somewhere else making a wish
An oxidized penny a jukebox quarter a broken promise

You are laughing a fountain it’s inscrutable
Yellow marimba mallets in a clear glass vase
An abandoned stone house along the Oregon insterstate

A diminshed chord a wedding that’s rained out
Lemon moonlight absorbed by lace curtains
An osprey nest on a telephone pole

A relief globe a coffee cup filled with pens
An order of chicken pot pie in Lancaster, PA
A Virginia crepe myrtle & magonlia twilight

A Saturday daybreak you’ve had no sleep
Like everything else it’s a postcard of Multnomah Falls
Like everything else you are & you are

Multiplicity itself like everything it’s a laugh
Like everything it’s a mullberry cotton dress
Like everything it’s February rain thru black willow branches


Helix #8

A meadowlark in the bitterbrush
A glass of milk a green plastic cup
A bandsaw cutting curves in pine boards

A white trellis festooned with blush roses
A cigarette in a clear glass ashtray
A dish of alicha ater on Haight St & winter drizzle outside

A streak of henna & black eyeliner
Raindrops beading on cherry blossoms & plate glass
A blue denim jumper a white t-shirt

A china bust of the Madonna
A grapefruit sunrise against the high Oregon desert
You are simultaneity itself & exist there

You’re in the middle of nowhere
A bridge in the Japanese Gardens an infinitesimal mist
A rusted water tower aswarm with pigeons

A blue-wallpapered hospital waiting room
A train crossing sign half buried in a snowdrift
A red tour bus

You find yourself in the middle of forever
An order of French Toast in a Winnemucca diner
A half moon suspended above the beachgrass & iceplants

A wedding that’s rained out amidst magnolias
A rufous-sided towhee in the tall hedge
A mahogany mandocello a Washburn guitar

A voice a face a thin dime daytime moon
The Southern Pacific Coast Daylight rematerializing
Everything that might have been did happen


Jack Hayes
© 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Adams County Makes the News – Introduction – #2

[Eberle’s introduction to this new series continues!]

When I started writing for the newspaper in 1998, I had no thoughts about its rural nature or its relationship to the community. I walked into the office to see if Tim Hohs, the editor, could give me a ride home while my car was being repaired. He knew I was a writer and he needed a reporter; I was facing a large car repair bill and needed cash— within minutes, he had driven me over to my first assignment at the county courthouse. I walked into a room where two dozen furious citizens were confronting the county commissioners about their decision to have a large privately run prison built in the county. I was immediately hooked. The layers of tensions, personal relationships, and community dynamics underlying this passionate encounter fascinated me. As I continued to cover community meetings, I would often experience the eerie feeling that I was actually inside an on-going novel. However, it was not until I started reading newspaper material from the past hundred years that I came to have a deeper understanding of the community’s relationship to the newspaper as particularly defined by their shared rural context.

I’ve come to appreciate the fact that a rural newspaper differs from an urban newspaper not only in scale, but in more complex ways that reflect basic differences between rural and urban communities. A rural context, in fact, transforms the nature of the newspaper medium because of the relationships that exist between the newsmakers, the writers, and the readers. In a town of several hundred people, no aspect of the newspaper can be abstracted very far away from the personal. People know the editor, the reporters, and the individuals at the meetings that are covered, they know the letter-writers and the local advertisers; people will stop you on the street to comment on an article or call you at home to make suggestions.

A rural newspaper acts out a very particular kind of drama, one that takes place mostly on the local, community level. Whereas mass media seems to function through anonymity, and through
the dynamics around authority that anonymity creates, the Adams County newspaper is scaled to individual dynamics within the community, and the uniquely local history created by those dynamics. Viewing the newspaper as a record of the past involves seeing a subjective community history—a record of relationships as well as of events. When people write letters to the editor, for instance, they exhibit aspects of their perceived relationship to local authority by the tone and voice they choose in order to give their claims weight and legitimacy. The newspaper itself can make fun of this fact, as when an editor started putting headlines to a published debate between two posturing local men that poked fun at the studied politeness of their anger: “Mr. York Loves Mr. Thorpe, So He Says—If Affection Is Reciprocated, Why Not Kiss And Make Up.” The relentless return to the personal is an element that fascinates me—over time, it creates history on a scale small enough to include the individual as a recognizable unit.

Advertisements offer an example of the difference that an individual rather than institutionalized voice can make in the experience of reading a newspaper. Especially in the early days of the Adams County paper, local merchants wrote their own advertisements in narrative form (or, in the case of lather and shingler Ira A. Brown in 1913, in poem form.) National ads for products from Wrigley’s Gum to Ford automobiles also appear, bringing with them the whole language of advertising that universalizes the product and distances the individuality of the seller in the way we have all grown used to.

In contrast, when Council merchant Fred Weed advertises his product in the paper in 1920 by
saying: “Meats - Fresh and Cured - at prices somewhat lower than conditions may seem to warrant,” there is no losing sight of the individual—even across the decades I get a sense of his character, I wonder about his extreme caution in committing himself and what this has led to in his life—there is very definitely a person there in the words. Similarly, when I read: “B.F. Shannon the shoemaker is still here,” and: “Remember the shoe shop isn’t out of town yet,” I am struck by his choice of tone, and wonder what particular meaning it conveyed to county residents who knew him. The lugubrious tone could easily be a response to or a comment on the way that people knew him in the community. In a small town, personal knowledge or speculation (i.e., gossip) informs how people write to and read the newspaper. Knowing that your readers know you, know of you, or may do so at any timethis changes the act of writing and the act of reading as well. There’s no escaping the fact, under these circumstances, that words exist in a web of interconnections, that “information” is never really neutral.

The rural newspaper can be used to deliver specific moral messages to individuals, as when
young Harry is exhorted to change his ways in 1914: “You are on the right track now, Harry, and have a future before you by sticking to your manly resolution. Do not under any circumstances betray the confidence your friends have placed in you, and all will lend you their moral support to make a man of yourself.” At times, the populace at large can be scolded in an attempt to organize, for instance, a town clean-up day or a road repair crew. Rumor control is another function of the paper, and specific rumors are addressed: a denial of rumors about the nature Frank Haworth’s injuries in a French hospital during World War I, a denial of rumors about local cases of infantile paralysis in 1932. The paper continues through the century to perform this function. On July 3, 1986, a resident writes to the paper that she is not at this time or in the near future leaving her husband; she goes on to clarify other details of her life. She closes by asking that if people have more questions about what she is doing would they please write her and enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope for a reply.

The lack of anonymity in Adams County communities has a definite effect on how people relate
to the newspaper, and what they say to each other through it. By directing what they say in the paper to known neighbors, local writers actively create voices that play a part in defining the newspaper’s character. In 2003: “To the person who sent roses to me at the bank. You know who you are – I don’t – so now I have to be nice to everyone. Many thanks.” In 1977: “Please change the population sign to 897, we don't want to be part of the town.” In 1974: “As you may or may not know, the city board is looking for a dog-catcher. The word around Council is that I have taken the job. As yet, they have not given me the job. I would appreciate if the citizens of Council would not call my residence at 3 a.m. about dog problems….” The local populace is small enough that the newspaper can publish the activities and words of a much larger proportion of the whole than would ever be possible in an urban newspaper—whether it’s to describe the color scheme of the refreshments at a meeting of the Indian Valley Improvement League, or to comment on the fact that the Lappin family sat up late Saturday night listening to the radio. While the differences between a rural and urban paper might have their origins in the smaller rural population, the effects are more complex and far-reaching, creating the newspaper’s community identity.

The idea of a community of readers can be, in the present age, an extremely ethereal entity.
People who have never met can be a “community” through chat rooms. What is remarkable about the nature of a rural community is its physical basis—everybody eventually runs into each other—meaning that controlled separation of one group from another is hard to achieve. Ironically, a larger population base can mean that people separate more easily into homogeneously-defined groups in terms of where they live, work, or go for recreation: the community of the workplace can be completely separate from the domestic community, and economic segregation into neighborhoods can create gated communities as effectively as physical walls. Several years ago, I had a visitor from New York City who expressed some astonishment after his five-day rural immersion. It struck him as remarkable that he would be having a beer in the evening with the woman who stamped his package at the post office in the morning, that the city official speaking on the fourth of July rang up his groceries the day before at the store. He commented, “It’s like you are all acting in a play together as well as seeing each other back stage."

All the pics are of Council, Idaho, & all but the first were taken in February 2009. The top pic of the Historic Adams County was taken in February 2010