MACOMB — Professor Emeritus John Hallwas of Western Illinois University presented “Voices and Visions: Nineteenth-Century Illinois Poetry” on Friday in the West Central Illinois Arts Center.
“This program is part of the annual Macomb Poetry Festival,” Hallwas said. “We look at a variety of different kinds of poetry every year in that festival, but we’re going to be looking back at the roots of our remarkable tradition here in the state of Illinois.”
“A tradition that after all in the 20th century produced national figures such as Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks and others,” Hallwas said. “We have an outstanding tradition of poetry here in Illinois.”
According to Hallwas, poet John Hancock was the first significant Illinois poet.
“He has remained a little-known figure, chiefly because he eventually left Springfield, settled somewhere near the Gulf Coast, and vanished,” Hallways said. “Exactly when he was born, who his parents were, why he came to the American West, and when and where he died are still mysteries.”
Hallwas recently composed a solo drama, a one-person play about the poet John Hancock titled “The Mysterious Bard of Sangamo” - a play in which he is prompted to explain himself through his remarkably varied poems.
“One fascinating aspect of Hancock’s work is that he was sometimes a traditional public poet, a ‘bard,’ as he called himself, who wanted to reflect his local frontier culture, to be a spokesman for it, or sometimes, to critique it, and yet, in other poems, he was an intensely personal, reflective figure, often trying to look deeply within himself, to find personal meaning in his experience,” Hallwas said.
Hallwas explained that poetry has a kind of compelling historical value that lets us know what earlier cultures were like, but also allows us to share in the emotional experience of people who lived before us.
“All poets as a matter of fact, all these Illinois poets, like good poets everywhere, give us the chance to connect with others and to deepen ourselves by sharing their joys, sharing their tragedies, their ideals, their conflicts, their sense of place and their individual struggles,” Hallwas said. “That is surely a great reason for making poetry still a part of our lives.”
Hallwas’ presentation was recorded for local television and will air this summer.
For more information about Hallwas, visit
Mark Mossman, professor and chair of the WIU English Department, was on the organizing committee for the festival.

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