Wisconsin writer Joseph O’Brien wrote that “Robert Wolf has undertaken a work of choral polyphony . . . . Indeed, from the moment thought speaks in this work, the polyphony, the many voices of the Driftless region come alive with a resonance which echoes from valley to ridge top.”
Driftless Dreams, like Under Milkwood, is a prose-poetic play for voices. Its subject is rural America, evoked in a tapestry woven of choruses, conversations and monologues. This mixture of forms allowed me the flexibility I needed to give voice to shared feelings and divergent perspectives within the Driftless region of the upper Midwest.
Publisher: Ruskin Press paperback 48 pages $10.00
Scenes in Driftless Dreams:
Section I. Farming
Section II. Small Towns
Section III. The River
Section IV. Character
Driftless Dreams was performed in 2009 by Upstart Crow Theatreworks in Decorah, Iowa and by the Kickapoo Players of Viroqua, Wisconsin.
Choral poem sample:
THE AGRARIAN DREAM
What is this dream America dreams?
It is a dream of land and farmers,
a dream of a great garden, a patchwork quilt
stretching across a continent.
Here in the Driiftless not squares of farmland:
but contoured strips of corn, alfafa and soy.
Miles of strips on a quilt: green, brown, yellow and gold.
A garden quilt.
A quilt sewn of spring winds and rains,
black bellied harvest clouds and thunderheads,
line storms, dust storms, drought and flood.
A flush quilt, a dried quilt.
A garden of delights, a garden of troubles.
It is a symphony of winds lashed out of dark skies,
Of blue serenity and blackbirds,
of trees torn out by roots and tossed as a child’s rattle
across streams, fields, barns.
The farmer lives with the moods of the earth,
with too much rain and too little rain
too much heat, too much cold.
The farmer does not dream of building rockets to shoot at Mars,
does not ask for the power of Jehovah,
does not dream of controlling drought and flood,
does not imagine that it can be done.
The farmer lives with a handful of dust,
and knows that someday he too shall be a handful of dust.
God’s signature is in all things,
animate and inanimate,
in the placement of leaves,
in the leap of a calf,
the blowing of storms.
The signature of God is in all things,
and the farmer reads it
Jefferson spoke the dream of many:
of filling the continent shore to shore
with men and women owning their own square of tillable earth,
nurturing their own crops and stock.
Of all classes Jefferson preferred the farmer:
not the mechanic or sailor,
not the artisan or banker,
not the businessman or merchant.
But the farmer.
Of all classes, he said, the farmer was freest of vices,
the most dependable,
the one who best regarded the common weal.
The best candidate for maintaining democracy.
Jefferson feared the day we would pile into cities,
and repeat the failure of Europe.
America was a new land, a new hope.
And the hope was in husbandmen, farmers, tillers of the soil.
In the dream America is a land of topsoil so deep
there is no ox so big,
no plough so deep
can rip its bottom.
In the dream it is a land of prosperity,
a land of square dealing,
the land of the broad ax, plow, and ox,
of hill folding into hill,
of winds singing to the clouds
and the clouds whistling back,
a land where farm women make clothes,
cook meals, tend gardens, and can,
and the girls and boys shock oats and barley,
tend the coop, gather the eggs,
feed the animals.
In the dream farm families still ride to town once a week,
on Saturday nights,
to sell their eggs, buy groceries, socialize.
They hear the town band in the village square,
the beaus and their girls hold hands.
It is a land of prosperity,
a land of square dealing.
Imagine contiguous plots of land a hundred miles across,
then two hundred, five hundred,
a thousand, three thousand miles across.
And imagine each plot tended by farmers and families of farmers,
imagine a garden, a patchwork quilt stretching over sixteen thousand
miles of curving strips on a quilt: green, brown, yellow and gold.
A garden quilt.
A land of tillers and husbandmen,
a land of farmers.