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Susan’s story: The Congo Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
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A poem I can still recite by heart is Vachel Lindsay’s The Congo which  I learned probably around the age of 8 or 9 during a primary school in class.  We absolutely loved it as we got to pound the table with our rulers at the line ‘pounded on the table’ and to make eerie ghostly sounds and yell and shout.  We particularly liked the lines about mumbo jumbo and voodoo, the onomotopeic nature of the words was totally tantalising.

It was great fun, but looking it up, I note that it’s actually the first part of a much longer poem and of course at the time, this was the early 1960s, we didn’t really take on the racial implications of the poem.  Apparently Lindsay was a passionate advocate for African-Americans and was criticised for this poem.  Indeed, I can recall several times trying to find a copy without success until the invention of google!   According to the google gospel, Lindsay was apparently something of a performance poet and certainly I always ‘hear’ this poem when I read it and the poem was inspired by a sermon about an incident in 1913 when a missionary was drowned in the Congo river.  There was  criticism at the time about the colonialization of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold II, hence I guess the reference to Leopold in the poem.

Susan Nickalls is a writer, researcher, editor and film producer specialising in the arts.