Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thousand Dollar Poem

An Ivory-billed Woodpecker glides through an Arkansas Swamp. In 2003, I entered a contest sponsored by the Poets' Roundtable of Arkansas. One of the categories each year is a poem with an Arkansas theme. It is open to Arkansas residents only (I was living there at the time) and the poem must be original, historically accurate, and unpublished. Poets must provide a bibliography showing their research on the poem. The prize is one thousand dollars. Now if you are a poet, you know that's hitting the jackpot. I won. The theme that year was the role of Arkansas in the Louisiana Purchase. I became a local celeb at open-mikes in the area. I haven't won enough since to by a latte at Starbuck's, but it paid my postage to other contests for a year or so.


West of the colonies,
wild and untamed,
lay a vast stretch of wilderness
owned by the French.

To the south, gulf breezes
cooled old New Orleans.
To the north was Canada’s
vast timbered realm.

In between there was Arkansas,
harsh and unyielding.
Caddo and Quapaw
had managed to stay.

In 1803 the French
had to sell it.
The young U.S. bought it
and moved on its claim.

They needed a marker
to anchor their survey.
A marker, in Arkansas’s
dark river swamps.

North from the mouth
of the Arkansas river.
West from the mouth
of the St Francis too.

Robbins met Brown on
the 10th of November,
In a swamp full of
Cypress and Tupelo gum.

In 1815, they marked
two gum trees.
Base line and meridian
for westward expansion.

In six square mile townships
the new frontier grew.
All measured their boundaries
from an Arkansas swamp.
The settlers came,
moved partly by greed.
The Indians left,
without charity.

Modern surveys confirm it.
The point was the right one.
Those two stately gums
in an Arkansas swamp.

So the West was established,
and new States were added,
by shooting a line to
where Robbins met Brown

at the Tupelo gums
in an Arkansas swamp,
where few folks had been,
and few want to go.

The Louisiana Purchase
of President Jefferson.
Explored by the duo of
Lewis and Clark.

Was mapped and divided
by using two gum trees.
Deep in the heart
of an Arkansas Swamp.