The Prairie Troubadour


My previous post about poet Stevie Smith got me thinking about one of the other prized volumes in my poetry collection:  Vachel Lindsay’s Collected Poems.  Discovered by chance while browsing the poetry section of a used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee [note: used bookstores in academic towns are the best places to find fantastic yet forgotten books of poetry], it was the first (and only) time I’d ever encountered the volume, and I bought it immediately.

One of the first things I noticed about the book (other than its wonderful illustrations) was its dedication page:

IMG_1093“this book is dedicated to Sara Teasdale, poet”

For those who don’t know, Sara Teasdale was a poet with whom Vachel was romantically involved and very much in love.  A man whose means were as modest as his self-image, Vachel was far too worried about his ability (or inability, rather) to provide for Sara, and over much hand-wringing managed to convince himself that no matter how much she might also love him, he just wasn’t good enough for her.  So she, of course, ended up marrying a wealthy businessman with whom she was ultimately unhappy.  (Ain’t life grand?)

For lack of a better term, Vachel was an “interesting” dude.  Handsome, brilliant, and too artistic for med school (he dropped out to pursue his calling as an artist/poet), he was a romantic at heart as well as a bit of a politico.  Nicknamed “The Prairie Troubadour” for the impassioned poetry readings he delivered as he travelled the midwest, he was known as a nationalistic progressive, which seems something of an anachronism now (believe it or not, there was a time when patriotic people could both love their country and want to change it without having to be labeled a Communist).  Never to be mistaken for a cynic, Vachel was an extremely sincere man who stood for his convictions and among those convictions was fighting for equality, especially among racial and socio-economic divides, as evidenced in both his writing and his life (he was an early mentor of Langston Hughes).

Vachel also believed strongly in the musical roots of poetry, most of his verse carrying an undeniable musical rhythm within its meter.  I’ve often wondered what he would’ve thought of the last forty years or so of musicians who fancy themselves poets, particularly the more progressive songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, et al.

vachellindsay“my precious,” as Golem would say

Like Stevie Smith, Vachel was also a draftsman (and a talented one, at that), and his art is scattered throughout his Collected Poems.  And like Stevie, he, too, suffered from depression.  But Vachel didn’t handle his depression nearly as well as Stevie did.  On December 5, 1931, he killed himself by drinking a bottle of Lysol.  I can remember reading about Vachel’s suicide when I was a child, and that image haunted me then just as much as it haunts me now– I cannot imagine a more particularly terrible or horrific way to go.  [note:  two years after Vachel’s suicide, Sara Teasdale would kill herself by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills]

I’ll finish this post with one of Vachel’s poems.  It’s not his best poem, but it’s one I have always enjoyed for shallow and superficial reasons.  Though Vachel was from Springfield, Illinois, the woman he loved was from St. Louis, Missouri, and I’ve always identified with this poem as a writer from Springfield, Missouri.

vachel lindsay springfield

“I got a rock…”

greatpumpkinwallme and my Peanuts pals hangin’ out in the pumpkin patch

Well, I’m camped out in the most sincere pumpkin patch I could find with a bottle of whiskey and a trick-or-treat bag full of rocks, and I’m just certain that this is the year I’m finally going to get a visit from the Great Pumpkin.

char_69253Each year the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere.  He’s got to pick this one– he’s got to!  I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one.  You can look all around, and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy– nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.

Attaboy, Linus– don’t stop believin’.

Happy Halloween, y’all.

Do You Realize?

Listening to late night radio again and happened to hear a tune I hadn’t heard in a long, long time.  I’ve never really been a huge fan of The Flaming Lips, as they’re more or less a pyschedelic jam band (and I fucking hate psychedelic jam bands), but I can distinctly remember hearing this song for the very first time on the radio in 2002 and being so moved that I had to pull over my car to finish it.

So here’s a brutally honest and beautifully poignant song (both lyrically and musically) from an otherwise absurdist band.  The video’s a bit ridiculous, but the song sure as hell isn’t.

Do you realize… that you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize… we’re floating in space?
Do you realize… that happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize… that everyone you know someday will die?

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes,
let them know you realize that life goes fast–

it’s hard to make the good things last–
you realize the sun doesn’t go down–
it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.

Do you realize? (oh, oh, oh)
Do you realize… that everyone you know someday will die?
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes,
let them know you realize that life goes fast–

it’s hard to make the good things last–
you realize the sun doesn’t go down–
it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
Do you realize… that you have the most beautiful face?

Do you realize?

(apologies to The Flaming Lips)

Movie Night: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)


I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall for the umpteenth time tonight, and I swear, it just might be the most underrated comedy of all time.  The film follows the story of sad sack Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) as he desperately tries to get over Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), his longtime girlfriend who has recently left him for an English rock star.  In a last-ditch effort to get her out of his heart, he takes a vacation to beautiful Hawaii, only to discover that she and her rock star boyfriend are also vacationing there. Hijinks ensue.


On the surface, one might easily dismiss the film as a formulaic Hollywood rom-com replete with just enough sophomoric humor to satiate the masses, but the truth of the matter is that this movie is so much more than that.  First of all, everyone (and I mean everyone) is brilliant in this movie–even Russell Brand. The casting is (surprisingly) perfect. But even more surprising is that this is a smart film. Sure, there’s some crude and vulgar humor in the movie, but guess what?  Life itself is both crude and vulgar.  And even the basest elements of the film still manage to be at once both clever and hilarious, as is the trademark of most Judd Apatow films.  But what separates this script from any of Apatow’s other productions is the fact that it was written by Jason Segel himself, and Segel wrote one gem of a screenplay.  It seems clear to me that Segel wrote this movie from the heart without any consideration of or concern for what the box office might think, in very much the same way as his character writes his Dracula musical in the film.  It’s easy to tell when something is created out of love or passion rather than commercial interests. This film was a labor of love for Segel, and it shows.


At its core, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is not just a funny film–it is an unabashedly moving motion picture that touches on the frailty of the human heart and the indescribable pain of getting over a lost love.  In my mind, the best comedies are those which make us think and feel as well as laugh–something deeper than slapstick–and beneath all the clever jokes and funny moments, Forgetting Sarah Marshall manages to successfully address the human condition in a way that few comedies have been able to:  uncontrived and honest.  And I swear, I pick up something new every time I see it.  Tonight it was the moment where a very large Hawaiian dude gives Peter (Jason Segel) advice about moving on:



“You’ve got to stop talking about her.  It’s like The Sopranos–it’s over!  Find a new show!”  [pause]  “You need a hug.  C’mere.”


I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie. There are so many scenes in this film worth sharing, but if I had to choose just one, it would be this one: