In A Quiet Graveyard
August Derleth


           Cover and Illustrations by Jean Pierre Cagnat

Quality Paperback, 131 pp.
ISBN 1-55246-002-9 @ $12.00

Introduction by Peter Ruber

Many of the poems are impressive in a kind of quiet, persistent, even-tempered manner. Derleth at his best and that best is very good indeed..." So wrote the Milwaukee Journal of August Derleth's Collected Poems (1967), in which the author collected from almost a score of books those poems he most wanted to preserve.
    In a few well-chosen words a perceptive reviewer captured the essence of August Derleth's poetry; the same may also be said of his Sac Prairie Saga — his novels, short stories, and journal books. Outside of a select circle, Derleth was not widely recognized as major influence or a driving force in the world of poetry, primarily because he did not write poetry with an eye toward publication. Most often writing poems was an introspective exercise to strengthen his prose and to sharpen his powers of observation. Writing poetry also provided him with an escape from the rigors of the steady stream of books and stories that flowed from his typewriter during incredible bursts of creative energy.
When he would decide to send occasional small groups of poems to a magazine, it was only after ruthlessly weeding out dozens that he did not consider worthy of publication. He often wrote to colleagues, and repeated in lectures, that he was a minor poet. Because he applied such tough critical standards, he allowed only a small portion of his entire output to appear in book form.
    Most of Derleth's nineteen volumes of poetry were self-published over a span of three-and-a-half decades, usually in elegant limited editions averaging 300-500 copies, by printers like Carroll Coleman of the Prairie Press, who set type by hand and printed and bound them in the same fashion using distinctive papers, typgraphic designs, and woodcuts. The best from these appeared in two large collections — Selected Poems (1944) and Collected Poems — issued by commercial publishers.
    The vast wealth of Derleth's unpublished poetry waited to be discovered twenty-five years after his death, among an incredible cache of unpublished manuscripts hidden in his former home. Here we found some 1500 poetry manuscripts and four collections he had assembled shortly before his death in 1971, treasures we intend to publish over the next few years along with his other unpublished writings.
    Derleth's poetry falls into three distinctive groups: poems of nature and the environment; poems on the aspects of love; and incisive portraits of the lives of quiet desperation led by the men and women of Sac Prairie, the fictional milieu of his home town of Sauk City, Wisconsin. Only a dozen of the poems about the Sac Prairie people were published in previous collections. All, we suspect, were drawn from real-life. Early in life Derleth began to collect voluminous notes about the people and the legends of those who had lived in the old houses of his village. Some even appeared as recurring characters in his fiction and journal books — people like Louisa Stoll, Poosey Lahman, Elka, the widow Helgenau, and Beau Wardler. He neither condemns or pities them: he shows compassion and deep understanding for human emotion and the human condition, and he wrote about it in an exquisitely elegaic style.
It should be noted that Derleth's style is unique. It is neither free style verse nor traditional in form. He cared little for the experimental school of poetry; and other than a few early attempts to write poetry in traditional forms like the sonnet, couplets and quatrains — each with its own distinctive rhyming patterns — Derleth borrowed from both to create his own form of expression.
    It might be said that Derleth wrote prose poetry, because much of his poetry was formed out of prose-style sentences and notes he jotted down during his daily walks on the periphery of Sauk City. One can see by reading those little notebooks and from early, heavily corrected typed drafts, just how carefully he crafted his words and phrases until he had achieved the right mood in as few words as possible. Often his poems underwent revisions over a period of many years before they wound up in print or in a pile of those he rejected.
    We believe In a Quiet Graveyard has the ingredients to become as important as Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, a landmark work that stood the literary world on end when it was published in 1915. There are striking similarities as well as significant differences between the two works. The main similarity is that both deal with people who had lived in small, rural farming communities. But whereas Masters lets each person speak from the grave and sum up his or her own life, Derleth is the narrator, extracting the distinctive flaws of character, the inability to love, and the self-imposed misery and loneliness that followed them to the grave.
    In Spoon River Anthology Masters broke away from the strictures of form and rhyming patters and wrote each poem in free verse. Derleth is more creative. Using lines of varying length with some considerable rhyming to punctuate a mood, he creates a powerful and intense reading experience that often borders on the hypnotic. It is difficult to say if Spoon River Anthology had a significant influence on these poems or on Derleth's own poetry. Perhaps Spoon River Anthology only reinforced his passion to write about his own microcosm, which, in a sense, reflects the same characteristics and emotions people experience wherever they live, whatever space of time.
    And so we present In a Quiet Graveyard: Poems of the Sac Prairie People, an important addition to the Sac Prairie Saga, by one of the most under-appreciated creative artists of our times. We hope this series of new books by August Derleth appearing under the "Hawk & Whippoowill" imprint will finally bring one of America's most prolific and versatile writers the recognition he so richly deserves.

— Peter Ruber
23 January 1997

Table of Contents: The Poems

        Billy Sand
        Buck Carringill
        Eli Wembler
        Old Matt
        Mrs. John Streng
        Father Meinrad Brunfels
        Dr. Wolgang Lauss
        Oscar Stuart
        Charlie Techmann
        Dr. Paul Tabor
        Mrs. Warner-Glenn
        Mrs. Emma Stillman
        Eliphas Mife
        Jeb Sneeder
        Elsie Medstrom
        Bertram Bunn
        Abner Hersey
        Anson Boggs
        Thomas Bardshaw
        Lily Manzer
        Daisy Vellairs
        Gunter Priell
        Alec Somers
        Ted Birkett
        Bart Hinch
        Lois Malone
        Mary Kempe
        Nell Barraclough
        Mink Rossik
        Christian Wingdon
        Martha Wingdon
        Hugo Blauenfeld
        Rena Larriquer
        Effie Kahlmann
        Weldon House
        Mrs. Eben Ford
        Hunchback Joe
        Hester Duff
        John Streng
        Jim Wetherby
        Mrs. Herman Mehst
        Esau Krell
        Lucinda Frayle
        Ilsa Lahmann
        Henry Puli
        Oliver Vair
        Mrs. Clara Pell
        Ethel Burns
        Father Hemel
        Alonzo Merrick
        Molly Pringle
        Adner Pringle
        Megan Hods
        Randolph Gread
        Amos Kled
        Barney Yancey
        Ada Legrand
        Obbie Legrand
        Kitty Vayne
        Michael Vayne
        Sister Bridget
        Raymond Sturk
        Joel Wingdon
        Manda Horrigan
        The Moore Twins
        Ella Wecter
        Mrs. Cory Venler
        Dr. Leopold Abort
        Rufus Straik
        Rewey Shanks
        Ed Garman
        Gus Pillep
        Ab Barto
        Richard Monn
        Mrs. Emma Liddi
        Helen Merk
        Clara Halgenau
        The Widow Halgenau
        Mrs. Louisa Stoll
        Poosey Lahman
        Mrs. Samuel Lazar
        Lawyer Beem
        Ralsa Hollascz
        Ginny Blye
        Old Mike
        Asey Gratz
        Goadby Deckerman
        Karl Lahmann
        Esther Minex
        Mrs. George Halgenau
        Beau Wardler
        Josef Meier
        Sadie Galway
        Doc Raney
        Lute Brenner
        Doctor Flemberg
        Hen Mamund
        Quintus Flack
        Sophie Hornly
        Old Joe I
        Old Joe II
        Barney Ferle at 93
        Barney Ferle at 97
        John Siebers
        Deserted Farm
        Old Farmer
        Grandpa Loney Reads the Wind
        Grandpa Loney Says
        Grandpa Loney Gathers Grapes
        Grandpa Loney Reads the Catalogues