Sunday, April 21, 2013

"We Are All Hobos Today"*

After the Hobo Code Poetry reading, we spent some time trying to think about what made it so successful.  Is there something about this particular time in history?  The Great Depression speaks to us here, almost 100 years later, so many of us teetering on economic precipes.

Is it the appeal of dressing up? 

What I think made it most successful was the ground rules.  We had several pages of signs that hobos developed to communicate subtly with each other:  chalk on a fence post that told if a house was safe, a symbol on a town's sign that told if a town would be receptive or homicidal.  It's graffitti of a different era.

And below, you see our works on the wall.  Imagine 6-7 rows of these pages.

Here's a close up of mine (a reminder that you can see the whole project here; my poem is on page 13; the different symbols are on pages 6 and 7):

I had been writing a piece about St. Brigid, and the Gospels are never too far from my brain.  All those images came together, along with the idea of Mulligan Stew, where everyone throws what they have into the stew pot--hence the potato and the carrot making the cross shape which signified that you could get food if you talked Christian talk.

We could have had Mulligan Stew too:

What I liked about this poetry reading is that we had a variety of types of poems:  limericks, thoughtful meditations on the meaning of home and warm meals, Hansel and Gretel as seen through the lessons of hobohood, light-hearted salutes to life on the rails.  The project involves a variety of writers, from people who have published many books to writers producing their first poem.

And because of the constraints, based on the poem alone, I couldn't tell who was who.  My poem wasn't one I would have considered one of my best.  And yet, when I read it on Friday, for the first time in several months, I thought, well, this isn't bad, exactly.

My frustration with many poetry readings that have so many poets is that it's so easy to get bogged down in poems that are too personal--meaningful only to the writer.  I loved that the hobo theme gave us a way to anchor our work.  You could still write about your cat, but you had to tie it to the larger theme.

It even led to other art forms.  One poet made this collage:

Suddenly I'm thinking of all the themes that are out there, all the historical periods that might lend themselves to this kind of project, all the grant money that might be available.

But mostly, I'm happy to have had such a good experience, the kind that makes me happy to be here.

*Title of this blog piece is a line from "Angel in the Dark" by Donna Ragland-Greene (on p. 35 of the project PDF).


Ellen Dahlquist said...

Do you know Kristin Berkey Ragland? I'm trying to track her down! Your names are so similar and you are clearly not her in the photo, but then I see you are quoting a poem from a Donna Ragland. Kristin was married to Tom Ragland and I think they live in Virginia. Let me know if you have contact info for her, I'm a college buddy from the past.

Ellen Miska Dahlquist
St. Olaf College

Thank you.

Kristin said...

I don't know a Kristin Berkey Ragland--interesting, though, all the similarities. I wish you luck in your quest.