NOB HILL--In 1967 I went to a poetry reading in DeKalb, Illinois to celebrate the publication of Lucien Stryk's anthology of midwestern poets. Besides Stryk as host, it featured readings by Dave Etter, R.R. Cuscaden, and Robert Sward. Each was to read for 20 minutes and then a reception was to begin. Dave Etter read some wonderful pieces that were stunning in their imagery and oneness with northern Illinois. Rob Cuscaden was next and also read some beautiful stuff...really imaginative with a wry sense of humor. For instance, he had previously published a book entitled Ups & Downs of a Third Baseman. Small wonder, then, that the Northern Illinois University crowd was most receptive. The energy was contagious and Cuscaden just kept on reading.
After about 30 or 40 minutes, Etter tried to get his friend to sit down, but Cuscaden ignored him. This might have been because they all had been at the bar in the Holiday Inn across the street for most of the afternoon. Finally, an hour approached and nothing of a gentle nature seemed to have worked to get Cuscaden to end his part of the show. Lucien Stryk stood up...Cuscaden kept reading. Stryk approached the podium...Cuscaden plowed further into his manuscripts. Stryk stood right next to him and put his hand over the typewritten pages. Cuscaden yelled out, "Just a second, Loosh, I'm just going to read the titles!" He then read the titles of 10 or 15 more poems before taking his seat.
Here is one of his poems from that night, about a small town near where I grew up. It is published in Lucien Stryk's anthology, Heartland: Poets of the Midwest (1967).
There was something nagging me about Freeport.
All day up the old main line from Centralia
Some memory scratched away and wanted out.
But whatever it was--a girl, a baseball game,
A poem--was in too deep. I gave it up.
That night, standing in the shower, six bottles
Of beer and a rare steak shifting uneasily
In my belly, I remembered all about Freeport:
A girl, a baseball game, a poem--the three
Together, on a warm afternoon in Freeport.