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Thursday, Dec. 11, 2003 02:20 pm

Biography offers new insights into Springfield poet

Vachel Lindsay: Strange Gold By Job Conger Eikenteiqahint Press, 148 W. Vine St., Springfield, IL 62704, 148 pages, $10

Job Conger's Strange Gold is a recent effort to encapsulate the life of Springfield's most famous poetic son, Vachel Lindsay. Conger wisely does not attempt to outdo previous authors. Lacking the credentialed "credibility" of professors and unable to compete with insights provided by Lindsay's peers, Conger chooses to write as someone who has read all the books, and feels the need to condense and reshape what he learned from them. The result is a good overall biography -- not too long, free of rambling idolatry and unprovable suppositions, and gratefully devoid of academic dryness.

Although a devoted fan of Lindsay, Conger usually manages to contain the reverence he has for him (his efforts to find connections between himself and the author being an exception). Conger does not shy away from pointing out some of Lindsay's character flaws, especially the author's growing paranoia toward those around him. Conger also places the author's life in an interesting, historical context by choosing to parallel events in Lindsay's life with historical events in his hometown of Springfield. The comparison between Lindsay as a growing writer and Springfield as a growing city is very useful. Equally impressive are commentaries Conger places after the poems. Too often biographies provide a lot of explication of a poem but not the whole poem -- Conger does the opposite, and with good effect.

Rather than being in chapbook format, Strange Gold would be best served as a perfect bound book, printed for sales at the Lindsay house or local book outlets. It is the kind of quick, easy read tourists buy. At the same time, it provides a fairly compelling argument for Lindsay's worth as a 20th-century poetic influence.

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