Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer in Vandalia

This week's Bus ride brought me straight back home to West Virginia and the summertime kick-off festival in Charleston, the Vandalia Gathering. The festival features traditional music, storytelling, dance, arts, crafts, and food, and a way of keeping the old ways alive for the young. I t is always held on Memorial Day weekend and feels like the beginning of summer.

To see where this week's trip took the rest of the passengers, visit Bill at Usually Confined.

By way of explanation for the title:

In 1768 Benjamin Franklin and the Great Ohio Company proposed the creation of Vandalia as the14th colony. It would have included almost all of present West Virginia, except for the Eastern Panhandle, and much of Kentucky. The name was a gesture to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, who proudly claimed descent from the Vandals through her birth to German nobility. The plan almost came to fruition in 1772-74, until the deteriorating American political situation made the British government back off.

The word Vandalia became synonomous with the desire for a free government in the mountains of West Virginia.

Summer in Vandalia

the fiddlers tune their fiddles

the neighbors spread the straw

the children hunt for lizards

beneath the scented boughs

there’s a hush of empty churches

the pansies still survive

the birds are stalking berries

old men are telling lies

stories for the children

who kiss their sunken cheeks

banjoes pluck at heartstrings

up and down the streets

hearts are valves a’leaking

mountain music in the air

it’s summer in Vandalia

my senses take me there


  1. A beautiful sensual poem. I like the birds stalking berries while the old men tell lies, gorgeous.

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  3. Like it. It's very evocative. I take the heart line to be an intimation that hearts cannot be relied on if they're allowed to rule the head (in this case, in the matter of independence)?

  4. Growing up in Johnstown, PA, my travels occasionally took me to WV. Now I have a glimpse of the people in all those mountains.

  5. You've captured the summertime energy of the people and music perfectly, Karen. My toe is tapping a sweet beat and I'm waving some bees away from my lemonade.

    The rhythm and sensory details of this poem evoke such joy in life. And I love that line in the middle: there's a hush of empty churches The time for prayer is later--there's living to be done! :)

  6. it's so full of life... a lovely, vivid picture.


  7. Very evocative. I could imagine it being sung to a fiddle and a banjo as I read it.

  8. i hear the music in this too - banjo music - joyful music. past, present and future meeting at the edge of summer. wonderful!

  9. I'm with Bill--it really reads as if it could be set to a nice old-timey tune! Good poem!

  10. I can feel the tradition just from your lovely, descriptive words.

    Very lovely, Karen!

  11. A great post. Thanks for sharing a little known tradition and culture I was unaware. I always like learning about new things.

  12. Niamh - Thank you. I'm still working on this one, but I think it's a start.

    Dominic - Hmmm..the heart line...I read once on someone's site (Maybe Rachel's?)that she makes it a practice to not include the word heart in any poem, but it seems that I can't help doing just that. The heart embodies (pun not intended) so much that I have trouble avoiding it as an image.

    jason - Much of the heritage of the people here is Scots and Irish. Come on down; you're always welcome.

    Sarah - Lazy days of summer. I'm ready! Hope I'll see you at a signing.

    SzelsoFa - Thanks! This may be our version of the festival you recently described.

    Bill - Now you have me singing it!

    joaquin - Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed your hiatus, wherever it took you. You guys are making me think tunes here.

    John - Wanna collaborate? Now that you folks have mentioned it, I am singing (in my own fashion) this with the last two lines as a refrain. I need to change that last line, though. I haven't been happy with it from the beginning.

    Calli - Thanks!

    Quackster - I'm glad to introduce you to Appalachia!

  13. Karen, thank you for your always kind comments on my work. I'm late checking my bloggie friends, but I'm so happy I caught up with you and your lilting West Virginia Bus ticket! Fabuloso rhythm!

  14. Yee-HAW! I can hear those fiddles fiddlin' and shoes tappin' on a sawdust floor! Thanks for this, Karen.

  15. i've always enjoyed such festivals. they make childhood memories surface so quickly. and what an interesting bit of history. hope all is well.

  16. Chris - You're very welcome. Hope all is well.

    Jeanne Iris - You'll have to make a trip to WV sometime. Just give me a shout!

    Rachel - Ready, set...let's go!

    Naquillity - I'm sure you can picture this. Glad to bring back memories for you.

  17. I found you via Chris and love this blog...I am in WV and was at Vandalia...LOVE Vandalia...
    Thank you for the most evocative and lovely post!

  18. Gabriella! Welcome! How wonderful to find a neighbor who blogs right here! I took a look at your profile and see that you're an educator and that we love some of the same writers. It's really nice to meet you. Please come back sometime. Do you write poetry? I'll get over to your place soon.

  19. Its so lovely to sing out aloud, Karen. :)

  20. Hi, Karen. I read this one a couple of days ago when I read your name poem, but I got interrupted before I could tell you how much I love it! You captured the rhythm of the music in a wonderful way. I also love the history. What beautiful work.

    I love your other poems, too. I'm still running around for the moment, but I had to let you know how much I appreciate your work. Have a beautiful weekend!