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.
Of a panther
Cold as blue ice
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: