Stark County Poems

STARK COUNTY POEMS: War and the Depression come to Spoon River

New copy, trade paperback. (Monongahela Press, 2017). First edition. Map, line drawings, photograph, 71 pages.

In addition to 30 poems, the book contains an essay: "The Effects of War: how one Illinois farm couple's experience of the First World War inspired a cycle of regionalist poems."

The poems in this collection, drawn from Omanson's rural midwestern heritage and shaped by the regionalist/naturalistic tradition of American poetry, were written over a period of some thirty-five years. They first appeared in such literary journals as Shenandoah, The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review and the Academy of American Poets anthology series, New Voices.

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Born four days after the death of Edgar Lee Masters, BJ Omanson was raised in the Spoon River valley of Stark County, Illinois, where his father, both grandfathers and several great-grandfathers had farmed since the mid-nineteenth century, and where members of his family still farm today.

Largely self-educated, Omanson has spent the past fifty years working in five states as a barrel plater, drill press operator, autoworker, tree trimmer, shingle-mill worker, logger, truck driver, taxi driver, bus driver, gardener, day laborer, fruit picker, groundsman, nurseryman, librarian, used-bookstore manager, barn restorer, farmhand, gravedigger, garbage collector, custodian, greensmower, night waterman, nurse's aide on a locked ward for the criminally insane, and teamster (driving draft horses).

For the past decade he has interpreted the daily life of an 18th century frontier farmer at Prickett’s Fort on the Monongahela River north of Fairmont, West Virginia. He has published poetry, literary criticism, theatre and art reviews, and military history. His second book of poems, A River Gray with Rain, is forthcoming from Monongahela Press.


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Nowhere to Nowhere

When they sold off the farm she took the child
and caught a bus out of town— as for him,
with everyone gone and everything grim,
he opened a pint of bourbon, piled

pictures, letters and clothes in the yard,
doused them in kerosene, struck a match
and watched as they burnt to ashes, watched
and worked on his whiskey, working hard.

The next morning he caught an outbound freight
heading god-knows-where and he didn’t care—
he was down to nothing, a gypsy’s fare—
down to a rusty tin cup and a plate,

dice and a bible, a bedroll and fate,
down to a bone-jarring ride on a train
through country dying and desperate for rain,
running nowhere to nowhere and running late.