Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cross Plains Return: Part 2

Day 2 of my Cross Plains journey began about 8:00. I normally have a hearty biscuit and gravy breakfast at Jean’s Feed Barn, but I wasn’t terribly hungry so I walked up to the Howard House instead. Some Project Pride folks were setting up and I and another Howard fan pitched in to set up the sign-in pavilion. I won’t tell you how much trouble we had figuring that out. The day’s temperature was already high but a nice breeze made it pretty comfortable.

Chris arrived at the house a bit later and we headed out to find the ruins of Camp Colorado. Howard had a keen interest in history and had written of the camp. Chris and I discovered a high fence with two strands of barbed wire along the top surrounding the place, and there was a house on the site with a freshly mowed lawn. But we didn't see anyone around. As we trod along the fence we found a game trail where animals had been going under the fence so we slipped under as well and took some pictures. (I’ll post those eventually.) Unfortunately, Chris twisted his ankle badly, and though he didn’t let it slow him down much he felt the pain for the rest of our trip.

One of the best things about Howard Days is getting to visit again with old friends that I typically see only once a year. Besides Chris, there was Scott Hall and his wife Kim. Scott is one of the two other “long-hairs” in REHupa. Coincidentally? Or not! We have very similar tastes in music, tastes that run decidedly toward the heavier end of the music spectrum. Scott brought along some new friends, Big Mike Myers, and Jody. Jody and I had some great semi-drunken conversation about evolution and I found he’d read many of the same books I have on the subject.

There was also Rusty Burke, who knows more about Howard than any living man, and Indy Bill Cavalier, the head honcho of REHupa. Bill brought his wife, Cheryl, who is quite a classy individual [although most anyone would look pretty classy next to Bill ;)]

There was Frank Coffman, a fellow academic and expert on Howard’s poetry, and Gary Romeo, a good friend who I can only describe as a liberal contrarian. Rob Roehm represented the California contingent of REHupa, and there was Mark Finn, this year’s guest of honor. Dave Hardy, a recent convert to REHupaism but a long time fan of Howard, brought along his wife and daughter. Mark also brought his wife. Rob brought his parents! Frank just brought a Hummer and booze. Amy Kerr, one of only two female REHupans, was hanging around, as was Angeline Hawkes, our other female member and a writer with a lot of notches under her belt. Angeline and her husband, Christopher Fulbright, who she often collaborates with, are the only married couple who are both members of REHupa. No, they didn’t meet through our august group.

A rather strange coincidence also occurred Friday. A guy came up and handed me a printed copy of web comic called “The Marsh God,” which I had been reading and enjoying, and which I had just commented on in a forum I haunt. The artist for the comic was named Miko and he had actually emailed me just before I left for Cross Plains about his interest in doing an illustration based on the Taleran books. I’d sent him some stuff, and now as I looked up at the guy who was giving me the printed comic I saw “Miko” on his tag. This was his first Howard Days and neither of us had been aware that the other was going to attend. So, it was a bit of “well-met in CP” for the two of us. Miko is a very fine artist and if you get a chance check out his website here.

Friday night at Howard Days there is a banquet put on by Project Pride for visitors and locals alike, and over 100 of us crammed into a small community center for great country fried steak and sweet cherry cobbler. There was also a silent auction of Howard related items, and a dramatic reading of Howard's fiction by Mark Finn. After that, most Howard heads returned to the Howard House for the "Cimmerian Awards,” which are voted on by readers of The Cimmerian Magazine, the most frequently published of the several small magazines that are regularly printed about Howard. I missed all but the tail end of the awards this year, but was glad not to miss what followed, the first annual “Robert E. Howard poetry throw-down,” where fans read their favorite REH poems.

I've argued that much of the secret to Howard’s powerful prose is the poetry that runs like a spine throughout it. To show this, I’ve been working for years on what I call “Found Poems,” where I take a paragraph or two from a Howard short story, remove the punctuation and a few function words, and put the words into poetic format. I read a couple of these, including the one below, and they were well recieved.

Dangerous suppleness
Of a panther
Cold as blue ice
Kite-shaped shield
Like a flash of summer lightning
Like the purr of a hunting tiger
He is mad
None molests him

Other fans read their favorite REH poems, too, and we turned several into drinking “songs,” an act of which I heartily approved and to which I joined in with gusto. Howard wrote a lot of poetry in his private letters to friends, which he had never submitted for potential publication. Toward the tail end of the night some of this poetry made its first appearance to a wider audience; some of it was quite bawdy.

Although everyone who read did an amazing job, the clear winner in my mind was Amy Kerr, who captured the dramatic intonations and the pauses precisely for best effect.

Sleep came sometime between 3:30 and 4:30 this night. I know I was feeling pretty old when I finally climbed into bed. But what a great evening to be a Howard fan.

To be continued:


Scott Oden said...

I'm envious, now! Sounds like I missed one hell of a party! Next year, my friend . . . next year ;)

Bernita said...

I really like that turning of his prose into poetry. Wonderful.

"Bill Cavalier" - I think I will bag that surname for some future character.

Greg said...

sounds like a great trip. i like the idea of your "found poetry." that one about the panther's really good! are you planning on posting more?

laughingwolf said...

superb presentation charles, and the links are great, too

also impressed by your 'found poetry', like greg sez....

Michelle's Spell said...

That does sound like a great party! I did get to shoot a semi-automatic at my last writing conference which was very thrilling and scary, but I can't say there were any drinking songs. Okay, there was some drinking, but no songs about it and not at the firing range. I'm glad you had a good time!

ivan said...

A kind of guidebook.

Sam said...

It sounds like a perfectly lovely trip!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Scott, it was a laid back extravaganza this year. I really enjoyed it.

Bernita, Bill is enough of a character for any two books.

Greg, since you asked I'll post some more of the found poetry. I've thought at somepoint of doing a chapbook of his found poetry, say from Lulu or something. I've probably got about 25 or so of these done now, but some are better than others.

Laughingwolf, Howard's prose makes it easy to find poetry within it.

Michelle, yeah, drinking songs and shooting guns is not a good mix. Great separately but not as good together.

Ivan, a couple of REHupans have published guidebooks about Howard and his haunts.

Sam, yes it was. Thanks.

Lisa said...

I love the image of all of you turning poems into drinking songs!

Sarai said...

Sounds like you met a lot of interesting people! Very interesting "found poetry" I really enjoy reading about your trip.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm sorry to hear that Chris hurt himself! I can imagine y'all singing songs like a gang of drunken pirates. *L*
This may be the elitist, Yankee down-forker in me talking, but "country fried" & "steak" don't belong in the same sentence, let alone "great." ;)

Erik Donald France said...

Wow -- awesome! Love the found poems, for sure. Very cool.

Rusty Burke -- got to love that name.

Steve Malley said...

Now *that* sounds like a weekend!

Sometime in this coming year, I plan to reread some REH favorites. Interesting to see what I might find now....

Coincidentally, I tried to explain chicken-fried steak to the Tiny Dynamo yesterday. Her expression was.... priceless.

Travis Cody said...

"great country fried steak and sweet cherry cobbler"

That's more than enough to get my attention. LOL!

I also enjoy turning a beautiful prose paragraph into a beautiful poem. The one you shared was excellent.

X. Dell said...

(1) Between the biscuits and gravy at breakfast, the beers at night, and the country-fried steak for dinner, you guys must have to waddle home.

(2) I'd hope that the long hair isn't a coincidence, but it probably is.

(3) That's a fascinating exercise, to take prose writing and reconstruct it as poetry to show the poetic nature of its poetics (forgive me, I'm channeling Gertrude Stein). You must have a really good eye for writing to have seen that.

Barbara Martin said...

Nice turn of phrase in the poetry.
Glad you had a good trip and got together with old friends.

steve on the slow train said...

The "Found Poems" reminded me of the biblical scholars trying to recreate the Q Gospel from Matthew and Luke. Except that your found poems may be truer than any recreated theoretical gospel.

Glad you enjoyed the party.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, it wasn't that hard. You just need a rhythm.

Sarai, glad you enjoyed.

Lana, as a Yankee, I just have to say, "you wouldn't understand." But I forgive you and still love you.

Erik, glad you liked 'em. Rusty is a great name.

Steve Malley, sounds like the Tiny Dynamo and Lana may be similiar in that way.

Travis, I knew you'd understand. Glad you liked the found poem.

x-dell, waddling is a pretty good word for what we were doing. Glad you found the found poem interesting.

Barbara Martin, yes, it was good to see old friends.

Steve, typically I take out no more than a few function words and some punctuation to do it. It's a neat exericise.