The Return of the Great Herb Vandecker, Poet

11/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Back in April, to honor National Poetry Month -- a sadly neglected holiday that sits somewhere between National French Fry Week and National Pick Up a Rock Day -- I took the opportunity to bring to people's attention one of the nation's great lost poets, the brilliant Herb Vandecker.

As I noted, Mr. Vandecker worked in deep obscurity for many decades, hindered by a public that didn't yet understand his work and which believed him to be fictional. Though many people still question his existence, including most relatives of one branch of the Vandecker family, the article and a companion piece I published in North Dakota's prestigious quarterly gazette, Poetry Now!, brought about the beginning of a long-overdue public acclaim.

Subsequent long-lost confrontational letters and poems have been found, along with correspondence from Mr. Vandecker, including most recently one with the renowned New Yorker magazine and its famous editor, Harold Ross. While most of the crusty exchange was one-sided from Vandecker, unhappy that the publication was refusing to print his latest poem about wheat stalks, calling the subject matter too "breathtakingly mundane" for its audience -- the passion of his efforts show Vandecker at his finest, in a virtuosic run-on sentence.

My Dear Mr. Ross,

While I understand you have rejected publication of my verse, "Our Lovely Wheat," and your continued silence on the subject and lack of replies after your initial graciousness suggests the unlikelihood of you changing your staunch, if inexplicable position, one you expressed politely but pointedly, if not a bit too pedantically (to use a bit of poetic alliteration, which I'm sure you will permit me under the necessary circumstances), I nonetheless rely upon our many years of acquaintance to believe that despite your years on the East Coast you have remained somewhat open-minded enough to understand the palpable appreciation all feeling human creatures truly have the world over for wheat, not just mundane Midwest farmers, something I am sure you grasp every time you have a sandwich, provided it's not from a deli and uses rye, and will therefore at the very least keep my request upon your desktop for time anon, since wheat - unlike most fleeting topics - is of the land and eternal.

Herb Vandecker,

Though the New Yorker did not publish the poem, Vandecker's persistence paid off, as he found placement for it in the admired Harvester Monthly, one of the top journals in the grain field. It generated much appreciation and several letters-to-the-editor.

I mention all this for another reason -- that Tuesday was the first day of Autumn. And as such, there is no better way to celebrate the occasion with reprinting Herb Vandecker's classic on the subject. When it first appeared in print, there was disagreement as to whether the meter and imagery was far too convoluted and pointless for its own good. However, it had many supporters who suggested that the texture of the work mirrored the richness of the season. Over time, Vandecker's liveliness in the work overcame most criticism, and it is now accepted for what it is, though that is still open to interpretation.

"Raise the Fall"
Herb Vandecker

Raise the Fall
Is all
I wish,
As I sit here in Mich-
And watch the wonders of the trees
Which please
Me so much, with such grand color.
The other months' are duller
Than the Fall's with its bright reds and many different shades, including various yellows.
These leaves are such welcome fellows.
I look forward to them o so dearly
When the curtain on them comes down,
I frown.
That is the reason
I wait for the new autumnal season
And stand proud, majestic and tall
And proclaim -- Raise the Fall!

From "'Would That It Was' and other Poems"
(c) Herb Vandecker 1957