thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong…

1922…People were dubious about spending twenty-five cents a ticket just to see a poet, but then they tended to be somewhat softened, mollified, by the fact that Lindsay also delivered temperance lectures which appeased the many dry-fanatics at the time.

Everyone would come to see a show, and Lindsay did not disappoint them. He could overcome the challenging and derisive moods of students, so much so that they would become enthralled, cheering him after a reading as if their college team had just whupped their biggest rival. The townspeople and professorial class tended to be less responsive. Some would stare aghast at the poet, while others were known to cradle their heads in embarrassment; none of them had probably ever seen a bona-fide poet behave in such an outlandish manner.

—At the first performance of “The Congo,” before a gathering of parents, neighbors, and other residents of Springfield, Illinois, Lindsay’s hometown; Elizabeth Ruggles, The West-Going Heart: A Life of Vachel Lindsay, 215:
When the citizens saw him stand up and throw back his head and heard him emit his barbaric “Boomlays” (“Simply bellowing,” remarked one of them), when they saw his eyes begin to roll like a man’s in a fit and his hands shoot from the cuffs of his dress suit and jab the air and his body rock and shoulders weave to the tom-tom beat of “Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,” they sat at first stunned.
The performance took seven minutes. As it went on and on, a few people turned away their heads to hide their embarrassment but many more let out snorts and giggles that swelled a rising wave of laughter.—Read More:

Lindsay’s biographer, Elizabeth Ruggles, wrote that it was a unique experience to see him in the throes of a recital: his arms pumping up and down, his eyes rolling like a man in a fit, his body rocking, and his shoulders weaving. Her description was apt enough, for the auditorium was soon in a turmoil as Lindsay threw back his head, puffed out his chest, and began bellowing out his most spectacular and successful poem, “The Congo”:

Fat black bucks in a wine barrel room…
Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,
Hard as they were able,
Boom, boom, BOOM,
With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
Boomlay, boomlay,boomlay,BOOM!

Bounding to another part of the stage, Lindsay teetered back and forth on his heels, his hands jabbing in the air,and, tipping his head back again, let go- slap, sock, and bang:


Then along the riverbank
A thousand miles
Tattooed cannibals danced in files:
The I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong…

Lindsay was accompanied throughout this recital by the tom-tom beat of a drum off stage. Suddenly the drum was silent and the poet lowered his voice and delivered the eerie last line in a menacing whisper:



After the seven minutes of gymnastics required to complete the poem, Lindsay was hoarse and dripping with sweat, and the audience was almost as exhausted. The wind-up inevitably brought the students to their feet roaring. ( to be continued)…

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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