Ft. Madison Me

Here is a poem that I actually got published. Seriously: check out the citation at the bottom. Sure, it was thirty-four years ago, in a social-work publication of minuscule (if not nonexistent) circulation, thanks only to a good friend and former favorite professor. But it’s a publication (one of three as it has turned out so far). I wanted to use it because it continues our trips-through-time theme from many previous posts. I wrote it on a bad day during my first year of teaching. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher (I felt kind of like Anaïs Nin, the spy in the house of love—an intruder into the halls of learning). Throughout my career, for the most part, I really liked my students (even then and there—1975 in Ft. Madison). But on a bad day everything seems sour.

I really did have a print of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving of Erasmus on the bulletin board in one of the classrooms where I taught (being the newest on the faculty I got the most preparations and no classroom home; I still remember clearly sitting in a little cubby-office off the school library working on lesson plans—or more likely writing poetry). I really could some days smell alcohol and pot smoke. And as most of my former students know, I really did have a thing for chalk…

On the brighter side (to return to yesterday’s poetic theme), during my first year teaching drama at Ft. Madison, having no syllabus or curriculum guide in those excellent old days, the students guided me with their ideas and improvisations into writing my very first play, the model for all the Andrew spring plays to come, “Brick Red and the Seven Dwarfettes,” which is going to head out for a play publisher just as soon as I finish editing and formatting it. The students and I worked up scenes during class which I then revised and typed in the teachers’ lounge/office after school, piecing ideas together until I had a relatively coherent script. Since we performed “Brick Red” last spring as my final high school play, some readers might even be familiar with it—after Everybody, the most produced of my plays, having seen the stage in Ft. Madison, for IHSSA Large Group contest my first year in Andrew, as the first spring play a few years later, and once again for spring during the 1990s.

Considering the huge popularity of Shrek and all the other fairy-tale mangulations, I just wish I had published it back in 1976.

But now, back to the teacher and his students…

Self-Portrait

Erasmus resides upon a posting board

for gaudy adolescents to gawk upon

(they don’t won’t can’t);

his somewhat pupil, chalk in hand, paces,

Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer

prepared to lecture youth about the subtleties

of career education, mass media and

rudiments of composition, all ignored:

the seedy, snide and stupid students bored,

their betters bound and fettered by these monkeys

dressed in pseudohuman form,

reeking of cheap beer and marijuana—

brains which function not, eyes that cannot

see. The foolish lecturer prates on,

uncovering dross his jeweled (nearsighted) eyes

perceive as gold—his pupils see it not at all,

uncaring or distracted or both at once.

Erasmus, luckily, is dead, and only

a shadow of a shadow remains to mock

the pedagogue and condemn the class.

Ft. Madison — published in Iowa journal of Social Work, vol. VII, nos. 2 & 3, August 1976

17 December 1975

This poem seems pretty straightforward to me, so I am not sure what to explain. I note that I liberate myself from the chains of teenage free verse to incorporate an almost regular meter and some not quite random rhyme. At this time I started experimenting with sonnets and the villanelles you have already seen. Considering its subject, I like the very dry tone and language here. Considering who published it, I was consciously emulating his own articulate poems that I had seen in Design, the Iowa Wesleyan College writing magazine. Perhaps he enjoyed the flattery or else felt comfortable with a style likened to his. He published one other poem of mine in that issue; I don’t think it was quite in the same mode. If I can find it, we’ll post it here one day.

(And I hope you see the end of “Details, Details” very, very soon, the other half of “Why Wakdjunkaga” not long after that.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Why Wakdjunkaga

First, before we explore today’s topic—the title of this blog—I should acknowledge that last night was the first of two performances of Peace Pipe Players’ production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Tonight will be the closing performance (at 7:00 PM at the Ohnward Fine Arts Center in Maquoketa.). I play one of the crazies in the insane asylum, Scanlon, the bomb nut. I’ll talk about the show is a future post, but you’re all welcome to come…

Furthermore, we topped 2000 hits on the blog yesterday—an inconsiderable amount in the world of big-time blogging, but I was pleased. I hope you all keep reading—and tell your friends (or enemies).

But back on topic: why do I call it “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog?”

Why indeed?

My friend Sharon asked in a comment about the name of the blog. Was it some local thing? Local, if you live in northern Wisconsin, maybe. But that element has only a little to do with me and this blog.

Wakdjunkaga is a kind of alter-ego for me, a false identity on no occasion but a pen name for most of my plays in their original productions at Andrew Community School. Many of those plays, and most of the choral reading and readers theatre pieces we developed ourselves were presented as “by Durwood Wakdjunkaga.” I think the first official use of that name happened at a district individual events speech contest when a girl of great talent received an unfair rating (aren’t all the judgments with which we disagree unfair?) and would have been unable to advance to state. However, in my youthful ineptitude, we had an open spot for a poetry reader, scheduled to perform later in the afternoon (or at least an hour or so after the maltreated girl had received her II rating). We had just one problem (other than no performer, but of course this girl was going to be the substitute)—no poem to read. So I wrote one (fortunately, I believe it may only exist in the poetry files at the school or you might be reading it in one of these posts, and I have an otherwise embarrassing poem slated for tomorrow). Needing an author’s name for her to announce as she read the thing (and she did receive a I this time), I quickly settled on “Durwood Wakdjunkaga.”

Not as catchy as “George Orwell,” probably, certainly less memorable than “Mark Twain.” But my own.

So where did it come from? That’s where the story gets going…

In college one semester, I took a creative writing class, taught by the president of Iowa Wesleyan and former head of the English department. His was not the normal career path for an English professor, but Dr. Louis A. Haselmayer seemed to me then everything a college president should be (and, as I would later find out, then some). Naturally, everyone in the class wrote poems, including me (at least for the first couple of sessions). But I grew bored with uncritical reception of my verse (most of us were also members of Sigma Tau Delta, the English fraternity, at meetings for which we also exchanged writing—usually poetry—for discussion and critique as well as publishing a magazine every spring). So I decided to try writing a novel (I’d tried that several times previously in junior high and high school—all very incomplete), working up a chapter for each class session. I haven’t seen any of those pages, for which I was too ignorant to create carbons, in many years, so I assumed they’re long lost (we worked on typewriters in those days, a manual for me).

However, the story was titled The Book of Seasons, with reference to a pretended magical grimoire Liber Tempestatum (“The Book of Seasons” in Latin—me showing off my high school language study), in emulation of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle’s many hideous volumes of eldritch lore, particularly the nefarious Necronomicon. In what I wrote, a young person has inherited an old manse in which he finds this eerie ancient tome (straight copying of more than one Lovecraftian plot). I don’t think the actual story got much further than his discovery of the book. Evidently, not Dr. Haselmayer nor anyone in the class was familiar with Lovecraft, who was still pretty obscure and disrespected as a pulpster in those ancient days of 1971-75 (I don’t now recall in which year of my college career I took this class). I was unaware of the derivative nature of my story, so even after the class ended, I kept plugging away desultorily at it.

I own such a photojournalist’s vest

Actually, I jettisoned everything I had done for the class and started fresh. After my student-teaching stays at the antiquated, rundown, now-demolished, but beloved Hotel Allison in Cedar Rapids—first for a week in August and then during the longer second stay when I actually student-taught in November and December 1974—I came up with a more original plot. A character (as always, much like myself) was staying in the Hotel Allison (I don’t think I ever specified a reason), when one day literally out of thin air, a strange older man, dressed in strange clothing, popped into existence in the young man’s room and promptly passed out. I remember (the text is lost, I am pretty sure) the young man was cooking a can of beans in the can on a hotplate, contrary to all the regulations for residents at the Allison Hotel—as I had frequently done myself. Almost immediately, the young man went through the bald, old guy’s pockets (and he had many, wearing some strange kind of a multipocketed vest—all this written at the latest during my years in Ft. Madison, therefore long before I ever purchased a photojournalist’s vest, regardless how well-known I am for wearing them always now). Young man found several things of interest—some rods of various woods, powders and containers of other substances, and a strange book—not exactly a paperback because both the cover and pages seem to be either made of or encased in plastic.The book was poetry entitled A Book of Seasons by…

—I needed a name, and after a long process of calculation (which I will discuss in much greater detail later), I devised Durwood Wakdjunkaga.

When he had revived and received some food, the older man revealed he had come from the future, and was here to rewrite his own history. He was the author of the book of poems, so he was Durwood Wakdjunkaga. I think I intended for him to be a magician or wizard, having acquired the other Book of Seasons (the magic book from the earlier version of the story) in his youth, probably in the same way that I had developed for the creative writing class (I never got much past the old guy’s arrival and eventual introduction of himself). I intended these two to hang around Cedar Rapids and do various things the old guy wanted accomplished, with the youngster acquiring experience and wisdom from this future-elder, until the young man had to return to… well, I never had a good reason for him to be at the Hotel Allison, and I wasn’t sure I wanted him student teaching, so we have a hole in the plot outline here.

The old guy helps the young man meet a woman, prevents him from receiving a letter, and then vanishes, having left behind a message for the young man, who falls in love with the young woman and eventually marries her. The message reveals that Durwood and the young man are the same person: Durwood is the young man’s older self from the future, who regrets the path his life had taken (mostly because he received the mysterious letter, acquired the Liber Tempestatum, became interested in black magic or whatever, and never properly fell in love with the young woman—or perhaps he viciously sacrificed her, a virgin, to acquire his thaumaturgical powers; I liked the second version better, and I never did write any of this, just imagined it, so it’s all open-ended). As an old, lonely man, he realized that love would have been preferable to magic, so he used the magic powers he had acquired (by killing this young woman so many years before) to travel back in time and prevent himself from ever becoming a wizard (and her from dying). By succeeding, he extinguished himself.

Ta-daaah! There’s never been anything like that plot before. Not.

The book never got further than chapter two, as the old guy wakes up in the Hotel Allison, but the name and the sense of Durwood Wakdjunkaga being a kind of alter ego for me (after all, who else was the youngster in the Hotel Allison but my surrogate?) have never gone away. In fact, I am going to play with the older-looks-at-younger-looks-at-older self for tomorrow’s post.

So it’s “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog” because it’s my blog, and pseudonymously I am Durwood Wakdjunkaga. In fact, if the students who have asked did as I suggested, I have even foisted the pen name on my replacement to use as the author of their choral reading piece, performed today at the Iowa High School Speech Association district large group contest in Monticello. (I hope they did well, especially since everyone was probably as excited—or more excited—about the Andrew Homecoming Dance tonight.)

I hope that explains why this is “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog.”

However, we still don’t know where or how I came up with Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a name. As this post is definitely long enough, you will just have to wait for the rest of the story (along with waiting for the rest of “Details, Details”). Both will be forthcoming…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.