bj omanson: curriculum vitae

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After dropping out of high school at 17 to work the night-shift as a barrel-plater in a fastener factory, Omanson spent the next fifty years or so working in Illinois, Washington, Colorado and Minnesota as a furniture factory worker, punch press operator, autoworker, tree trimmer, shingle-mill worker, logger, 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, nurse's aide on a locked ward for the criminally insane, and teamster (driving draft horses).

Omanson came of age in the late 1960s in the unrelieved wasteland of Rockford, Illinois, an experience he would wish on no one.

(See: "Wasted, with no way home").

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. So, in November of that year, aged 22, newly married and facing a long, hungry winter without work, he happened to hear of logging boom out on the northwest coast and, with $5, a blanket & change of clothes, he hit the road.

(See: "Wilderness sojourn.").

1974. Just back from
a year in the wilderness

Omanson returned to Rockford, Illinois in late 1974, after almost a year in the woods, and took up residence in a small apartment on the Rock River, close to the natural history museum, and surrounded by gardens and trees. For the next year or two, while working the graveyard shift on a locked ward for the criminally insane, Omanson immersed himself in the poets of the nineteenth century and began piecing together a library.

(See: " A garden apartment by the river: becoming a poet in earnest").

Though never graduating from high school, Omanson had begun taking college courses on a part-time basis in 1968 at Lincoln College. When he returned to Illinois, he resumed his formal studies, taking all the available upper-level courses in English and American literature, and Western philosophy at Rockford College.

(See: "In the ivied halls of disputation").

In 1977 he married his second wife, Virginia, a brilliant, brooding poet, journalist, epistimologist and classicist. In the late 1970s, they moved to Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, where he drove library van out of Colorado Springs, delivering books and mail to libraries in the mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor.

(See: " A primal encounter in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains").

Around 1980, Bradley & Virginia moved to Minneapolis, where Virginia worked in a law library and was admitted to the graduate journalism school at the University of Minnesota. Omanson worked in a used bookstore in Dinkytown, next to the university, about a block from where Bob Dylan lived in an apartment over Gray's Drugstore.

(See: "Bohemia on the Mississippi").

After about a year, they moved a few miles north of Stillwater where, for the next five years, they lived in a little cabin on 18 wooded acres on West Boot Lake and Omanson worked on a nearby farm.

(See: " Living close to the bone on West Boot Lake").

After the death of Virginia in late 1986, Omanson returned to Rockford at the beginning of 1987 and spent about a year living more or less as a recluse. Gradually he returned to his studies at Rockford College and, in 1988, married his current wife, Marian Hollinger.

(See: "Return to Rockford, monastic seclusion, resumption of studies").

In 1992, he and Marian moved to West Virginia.

Omanson in the early '90s

In 1993, for several weeks in the spring, Marian and Bradley resided in Oxford (See: "On the trace of the Scholar Gipsy") and Paris (See: "On the streets of Paris") with a side-trip to the Aisne-Marne Cemetery at Belleau Wood. The poems completed or begun during this trip would form the basis for his second and third book of poems, The Tower at the Edge of the Wood, and Along a Darkening Trail.

During the mid-1990s, Omanson published poems in several established literary journals, including The Sewanee Review and The Hudson Review. He also began corresponding with several prominant poets with aesthetic values similar to his own, including Dana Gioia, RS Gwynn, David Mason, Felix Stefanile and Jared Carter.

For a brief time he picked up his cudgel and waded into the so-called "poetry wars" occasioned by the resurgence of traditional forms, and published two quarrelsome polemics: "Meter, Misnomers & Misapprehensions: a reply to Jonathan Holden's 'The Old Formalism'" and "Breaking into the Dragon's Hoard: The Death of Modernism and the Unlocking of the Past".

In 1997, Omanson founded Monongahela Books, an online bookstore specializing in American culture and history, which he still operates.

Also, in the mid-1990s, Omanson discovered the First World War poetry of John Allan Wyeth, and began the long, slow process of bringing Wyeth's poetry to the attention of the literary world. This would ultimately culminate in the re-issuance of Wyeth's 1928 book, This Man's Army: A War in Fifty-odd Sonnets by the University of South Carolina Press as part of the Joseph Bruccoli Great War Series, with critical introduction by Dana Gioia, and historical annotations and section introductions by Omanson. Wyeth is now increasingly recognized as the most significant American poet of the First World War. Omanson went on to create a blog about Wyeth, The War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth in 2012.

Omanson at Pricketts Fort

a farmer & his corn
From 2006 to 2016, Omanson worked as an historical interpreter at Pricketts Fort, an outdoor living history museum near Fairmont, West Virginia depicting everyday life on the Virginia frontier, ca. 1770-1800. His duties included overseeing a small, 18th-century frontier farm, militia drill, musketry, wood-cutting, rough carpentry & sheep-shearing.

In 2016, Omanson launched Fencerow: A Journal of the New Regionalism.

Also in 2016, 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.

In 2017, Omanson established a small independent publishing house, Monongahela Press. He issued several historical reprints from the First World War, and his first three books of poetry: Stark County Poems: War and the Depression come to Spoon River; The Tower at the Edge of the Wood: Bois Belleau Seventy-five Years After; and Along a Darkening Trail. The next book from Monongahela Press will be a cycle of poems portraying the circle of friends surrounding Henry Adams, by Jared Carter.

Also in 2017, Omanson launched the literary blog: A Bivouac on the Slopes of Parnassus: Poetry & thoughts on poetry by BJ Omanson

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.

In March, 1918, a review of Stark County Poems, "Meditation on the Past," by J. Robert Baker, appeared in Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art, Issue 38, Fall 2017.

bj omanson

Video-poem: "Embers of a Gypsy Fire"

visit the Dugout: field headquarters
 & dingy refuge of BJ Omanson