Sunday, August 11, 2013
"The Bard of Butte and the poet of Helltown"
Pres Longley, born in 1824, dreamed that one day his poems would be made into a book. Now, more than a century later, his dream has come true. "The Miner Poet: Poems of Pres Longley" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing), edited by John Rudderow and Nancy Leek, presents more than a hundred of his poems, along with a substantial dose of Longley's witty and self-deprecating prose, in a handsome volume that is simply a must read.
Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a book signing Tuesday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m.
The editors's introduction highlights the themes that captured the poet's heart, including Democratic politics, women's suffrage and the miners' plight; he "stood with them in their struggles against natural disasters, corporate greed, and ever-passing time."
He also wrote of his single status (he was almost 60 before he married) and "the effect that the gradual arrival of women had on the giant bachelor party that was gold rush California." For years he lived in a cabin "on Boneyard Flat, halfway between Centerville and Helltown, in Butte Creek Canyon. Helltown was a boom town in the 1850s, but by the time Pres settled there in 1866 most of the miners had moved on to the Comstock Lode and the Fraser River."
"I hold that true poets are prophets," he once wrote, "Whose voices are echoes sublime, / Whose songs are the anthems of nations / That float down the river of time." But he wasn't averse to writing about the small things, like bumping into a "Girl I Saw On L Street": "I've been in stormy battle's fray, / And heard the bullets whistle, / But never have been wounded with / So dear a little miss-ile."
"The rarest treasures of the tropic land," the poet observed, "On 'Rancho Chico' have been brought to stand. ..." He longed "for the good old days of yore, / When statesmanship was pure; / When men would scorn monopolies / Who tempted them with lure." He wrote for the Democratic Butte Record and skewered the Republican newspaper in "The Critic": "All must admit the man's a cheat / Who slobbers out the damndest lies, / Then hides himself behind a sheet / He calls the Chico Enterprise."
This is Pres Longley, the Bard of Butte.