By Jim Nowlan
I am reading a captivating new book, Stark County Poems: War and the Depression come to Spoon River, by Osceola native B. J. (Brad) Omanson, now of West Virginia.
I fashion myself a great reader, yet I have never been able to get into most poetry. Brad’s poems are different, with a softly rolling narrative. Easy to absorb, the poems wash over you like a warm shower.
Brad’s poems recount life in rural America, specifically on the farms of our county, from World War I maybe up to Brad’s young adulthood in the 1960s.
The poems range from a few paragraphs to several pages, easy to gulp in a few minutes. Though readers should return and spend more time with each, using what Brad observes to reflect on our own lives.
The poems are haunting, sad, bleak, warm, like life itself.
In one of the longer entries, “The Itinerant,” Brad tells the story of a restless hired hand, nursing inner struggles, who stops for a few weeks to help a recently widowed farm wife who is trying to keep the farm going on her own.
The itinerant worker says little, works hard, appreciates his lady boss for her pluck. The two share an unspoken attraction for one another, yet for reasons he maybe doesn’t understand, the itinerant cannot stay.
As he leaves one morning, “Goin’ West, maybe,” the widow looks longingly after him, too strong, proud or scared to let a tear well up.
If the poem doesn’t bring a tear to your own eye, you’re a hard-hearted Hannah.
I’m not finished with the small book, which I will complete just after deadline today. I know enough about the book to report that you must read it, and local libraries must buy it as well.
Stark County Poems is $12 at
After working Monday in my home office until about 11, I drove to Monmouth College, to try out their library. What a delight.
I used to teach at Knox College in nearby Galesburg. The two schools have a 150-year-old rivalry. I always figured that since The Fighting Scots of Monmouth were always so much better on the football field than the Siwashers (they regularly embarrassed us), that the Scots must not be so good as we were academically.
I think I’ll have to revise that view, based on all I observed at Monmouth this week.
First, the library was warm yet serious, inviting, with big comfy chairs to sink into. The library even has its own tiny Einstein Bagel shop, where I enjoyed a coffee and yogurt parfait while reading.
The college sports several handsome new buildings, including a really big, imposing business-science center that is state-of-the-art.
Monmouth is famed, among other things, for being home to the Monmouth Duo. Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi, two of the most prestigious of all college sororities (residential clubs for female students), were founded at Monmouth in the 1860-70s.
When I was an undergraduate at Illinois lebenty-seben years ago, if a guy were asked by a young damsel to be her date for the annual formal dance called simply The Monmouth Duo, you were hot stuff.
The late Kristin (Hawk) Keane, of Toulon, was a Kappa at Monmouth. Members of the sorority sport a gold key on their blouses to signify their membership.
Small liberal arts colleges like Monmouth and Knox each try to develop their own niches by which to be attractive to prospective students.
A niche for Monmouth is that of being a great place for good student graduates of small-town Illinois high schools to attend college. Of course, Monmouth has international and big city students as well, yet the campus is a particularly comfortable place for small town kids wanting to become successful in the large world.
I think, off the top of my head, of Kyle Ham, Clint Terwilliger, Ryan Pearson, David Milroy, to name just a few from Stark County, who attended Monmouth and are doing quite well.
Down Broadway Street from the college is—it’s still there—a roller rink, open to the public on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The white clapboard building looks like it’s out of the 1930s, which it is, I’m sure. I’m going to take my tennis-playing friends there one evening, then on to Cerar’s Barnstormer Restaurant for nice dining in Monmouth.
I still recall roller rinks, where, as skaters rolled around the rink in a “rectangular circle,” a fellow with a megaphone or microphone would announce the program: “Gurls choice!” he would shout out, or “Everybody skate backwards.”
Lots of fun in Monmouth.