Dead poets society does "The Congo"


In episode #26 of the PoemTalk series, Aldon Nielsen cues up for the other "talkers" — Charles Bernstein, Michelle Taransky and host Al Filreis — an excerpt from Dead Poets Society in which the boarding school boys under the spell of their charismatic English teacher (played by the late Robin Williams) perform Vachel Lindsay's “The Congo.” We play audio from that moment in the film and discuss it, so be sure to listen to this episode of PoemTalk all the way to the end. Many people have read Vachel Lindsay in school — or did until he was removed from the anthologies. Few of us have heard the recordings of Lindsay performing — not just reading, but truly performing — his poems, “The Congo” most (in)famously. So the PoemTalkers decided to try our hand at the first section of Lindsay’s most well-known poem. Al suggests that readers and listeners must attempt to “get past” the obvious racism (even of the opening lines), but Aldon takes exception to that formulation, and off we go, exploring the problem and possibilities of this poet’s foray — Afrophilic but nonetheless stereotype-burdened — into African sound and, more generally, the performativity of a culture. [read more]