New enlarged edition of ‘Stark County Poems’ released


Consisting of over fifty poems, from short lyrics in a variety of forms to lengthy blank verse and free verse narratives, “Stark County Poems” portrays the history of a small rural county in central Illinois, along the upper Spoon River valley.

Chronologically arranged, and incorporating letters, newspaper articles, obituaries, family stories, early county histories and diaries, the poems cover a century of the county’s history, from the 1830s through the 1930s.

Map, illustrations. 59 poems. 225 pages.

BJ Omanson was raised in the Spoon River valley of Stark County, Illinois, where both sides of his family have lived and farmed since the mid-19th century.

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In the autumn of 1893,
      Alpheus Wheeler Appenheimer
and his wife Olive arrived in Stark County,
      Illinois, after having traveled
from their earlier Illinois home in Pike County
      by way of Leoti, Kansas.

They arrived in a covered wagon drawn
      by a pair of worn-out mules conveying
a girl and two boys, implements, blankets,
      a plow and scythe and a chest of clothes,
tinware pots, some kerosene lamps
      and a Mason jar of seeds interred

in early May and exhumed in August,
      still unsprouted— it’d been that dry.
They almost starved on their journey back.
      In Missouri they stopped at a lonely farm
and asked at the house if they might pick a few
      ears of corn to boil for supper.

Go ahead, help yourselves, the woman barked.
      No one else even bothers to ask.
It was hog cholera that had wiped them out
      and sent them westward to make a new start,
and it was drought and the ’93 Panic
      that wiped them out for the second time

and sent them back east to begin again.
      They’d gotten their fill of living in sod—
dirt in your soup and dirt in your bed.
      Their youngest son was born on a night
in January that covered the state
      in three feet of snow as the mercury plunged

to twenty below. He was kept from freezing
      by his mother’s warmth and a crackling stove
that was fed from a pile of unshucked corn.
      At three cents a bushel it made more sense
to burn it than sell it and, anyhow,
      the buffalo chips were long since gone.

In later years, when anyone asked,
      old Alpheus never had much to tell
about losing two farms in two different states.
      In an unguarded moment he said aloud,
You can pray to God. You can vote for Bryan.
      In the end it don’t matter a hill of beans.

Old Locksley takes sanctuary deep in the cavernous gloom of his house


from Old Locksley among the Ruins:

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  It was later that year,
after weeks when the heat of midsummer
had driven Old Locksley to seek the shade,
had driven him, like a disgruntled bear,
to take sanctuary deep in his house,
deep in the cavernous gloom of his house,
with bats in the attic and dripping eaves
and high steepled windows where mystics, monks
and martyrs shone softly in sunlit glass
it was later that year, after summer’s heat
had driven Old Locksley into the hushed
recesses and curtained-off rooms of his house
a house that was more a cavern than house,
with ivy-encumbered and blackened stone
and deeply-set doorways encased in vine
or more like a mausoleum, perhaps,
with its bordering arbor vitae and yew
with crumbling foundation and groaning pipes
and crickets in corners, its redolent rooms
provisioned with humidors of tobacco
and crystal decanters of peaty scotch,
its snug little hideaways fitted out
with old leather sofas and mica lamps
enveloped in amber light  it was later,
much later that year that Locksley, at last,
emerged amid whirlings of leaves released
from willow and maple to clutter the air
all about his head and skitter across
the garden to lodge in the lower boughs
of the conifers  it was later that year
that Locksley returned to his garden seat,
returned to consider and contemplate
the melancholy decline of the year,
the shedding of gold and of crimson leaves,
the dropping of berries and migrating flocks
of sparrows in spruces, and all the subtle
foreshadowings of the coming cold . . .

BJ Omanson


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