bj omanson: curriculum vitae
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After dropping out of high school at 17, Omanson worked in Illinois,
Colorado and Minnesota as a barrel plater,
drill press operator, autoworker, tree trimmer, truck driver, taxi driver, bus driver, gardener, day laborer,
fruit picker, groundsman, nurseryman, librarian, bookstore manager, barn restorer, farmhand, gravedigger, garbageman,
custodian, greens-mower & night waterman on golf courses in two states, nurse's aide on a
locked ward for the criminally insane, and teamster
(driving draft horses).
He served in the ranks of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, and also in the Teamsters, and
participated in the ill-fated Rockford Park District strike of 1972, which cost him his job.
In November of that year, 22 years old, newly married and facing a long, hungry winter without work, he hit the road
with $5 in his pocket and hitched-hiked out to the northwest coast where a major logging boom was at its peak, and
immediately found work in a shingle mill. His job interview consisted of a single question: "Did you bring your gloves?",
involved no paperwork, and wages paid in cash ($4 an hour, twice what he had earned in Illinois).
He started off working on deck where enormous red cedar logs were
received and cut into great two-foot thick slabs up to seven feet in diameter. His job was to split the slabs into "bolts"
using an overhead hydraulic splitter. He then passed the heavy bolts on to the next man who heaved them onto a small platform and
split them into boards with a foot-operated razor-sharp guillotine blade: a far more dangerous job (costing many
a man his fingers or hand), to which he was soon promoted.
For the first few weeks he wired his wages
home to his wife until he received a letter from her in early January, telling him she had met someone else and please not
to come back. After that he kept his pay for himself.
For the next eleven months he lived in
the wilderness in a lean-to, along the Calawah and Hoh rivers on the Olympic Peninsula on
the Washington coast, working on logging crews, in shingle mills, and as an
independent cedar-bolt cutter.
Though never graduating from high school, Omanson began taking college courses on a
part-time basis in 1968 at Lincoln College, eventually earning a BA in English literature, with a minor
in philosophy, from Rockford College in 1990.
Currently, Omanson is the owner of Monongahela Books, an online bookstore specializing in
American culture and history. He also works as an historical interpreter at
Pricketts Fort, a living history facility near Fairmont, West Virginia depicting everyday life
on the Virginia frontier, ca. 1770-1800. His duties include overseeing a small,
18th-century frontier farm, militia drill, musketry, wood-cutting, rough carpentry &
Omanson's poems and literary criticism have appeared in The Stark County News,
The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, Verse, The North Stone Review, Sparrow: A Yearbook of
the Sonnet, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, The Pennsylvania Review,
Best American Poetry and the Academy of American Poets anthology,
New Voices, 1989-1998. Twenty-one of Omanson's Stark County poems were
featured in the book Stark County, Illinois: History and Families, published by the Stark County Genealogical Society and Acclaim Press in 2012.
Omanson annotated and wrote the section introductions for a book of World War I
poetry This Man's Army: A War in Fifty-odd Sonnets by John Allan Wyeth, a
staff officer with the 33rd Division, AEF. Completely unknown when Omanson
rediscovered him in the early '90s, Wyeth is now widely recognized as the most
significant American poet of WWI. His 1928 collection of war sonnets was reissued in
2008 by the University of South Carolina Press as part of the
Joseph Bruccoli Great
War Series, with critical introduction by
Omanson also annotated and wrote the chapter introductions for the memoir of a volunteer soldier in the First World War:
At Belleau Wood with Rifle and Sketchpad: Memoir of a United States Marine in World War I,
by Louis C. Linn, published by McFarland & Company in 2012.
His essay, "The Effects of War: how one Illinois farm couple's experience of the First World War inspired
a cycle of regionalist poems" appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of the
Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. Most recently this essay has been reprinted in an appendix
in Stark County Poems.