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Front cover of "Prairie Roots" by James Lowell Hall.

Publication Date: April 30, 2024

Author: James Lowell Hall

Publisher: Shanti Arts 

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 978-1-962082-12-9

Size: 6" x 9"

Price: $18.95

Pages: 136

Other: 21 black & white photos

Available: Shanti Arts, Amazon, BN.com, Bookshop.org, Ingram, and others

Prairie Roots is the story of a town, a home, a family, and a legacy. Told with poetic charm and treasured photographs, the story begins in 1912 in the town of Delavan, Illinois, with the courting and marriage of Ray and Marguerite Lillibridge, the author’s grandparents. From that time forward, joys and trials were lived and shared, and then told and retold, becoming memories that form the foundation of a family rooted in the prairie soil of the Midwest. Take time to appreciate the history, dignity, and love within this small-town family. Allow the book’s tenderness to reach deep into your own memories, unearthing your own stories and your foundation.

Praise for Prairie Roots

"In the place-based bardic tradition of poetry as storytelling, James Lowell Hall is a gracious host. His poems welcome us into his family. Come rest a moment in these unsettled times. Lose yourself in stories, in hope."

—Art Goodtimes, Western Slope Poet Laureate, codirector, Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds

"Thank you so much, Dr. Hall. I wanted to tell you how much I like your poem 'To a Father Dying Young.' It's really such a fine poem. I really liked it, and I'm not just being polite."

—Angela Jackson, Illinois Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominee. Winner of Poetry Foundation's 2022 Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement awards for poetry

"James Hall's Prairie Roots is a beautifully written and powerful collection that is grounded in family myth and reality in a deeply captivating way....[It] is an immersive and engaging collection that very much conveys the strength and nuance of his ancestors." 

Caitlin Jans, founding editor of Authors Publish Magazine and the co-founder of The Poetry Marathon

"James Hall's Prairie Roots is a vibrant, unforgettable tapestry of time and memory. Hall has carefully preserved all of the artifacts of his Illinois childhood — the smell of cinnamon buns from Plut's Bakery, the mosaic of flowers and flags rippling over Prairie's Rest Cemetery, the gentle snow blanketing Locust Street, covering everything in deep slumber — and what can we do but follow along this journey? Prairie Roots is a reminder of the fact that love is never truly lost."

Daisuke Shen, author of Vague Predictions & Prophecies

"This book sparks such joy! Such depth of heart and richness of story! Prairie Roots is a celebration of love and family, of long marriage, of country wisdom, the intimacies and deep history of small town life. James Hall’s collection of poems is a testament to shared memories as our truest treasure can be made exquisitely available to us through the poet’s dedication to craft, nuance, and narrative. And ultimately, and essentially, love. Prairie Roots book is an act of tender reclamation. Read these poems and let your heart melt, your smile break out wide."

—Judyth Hill, author of the internationally acclaimed poem, "Wage Peace," and poetry collections Hardwired For Love, and Dazzling Wobble

"In James Hall’s warm and wonderful collection, Prairie Roots, Hall weaves poems and photos into a grass-roots retelling of a family history staked deep in the soil of America’s Midwestern prairielands. From the fertile landscape to the members of his family past and present, to the faithful telling of the chores and habits that occupied everyone’s daily lives, Hall recreates a world fast disappearing. In 'Monday Washing Day,' Hall writes, 'No washers and dryers in those days—we had a scrub board with brass ridges. In the basement sink, we soaked clothes in hot soapy water, our soap homemade from lye, bacon drippings and rainwater.' In 'Prairie Sunset,' Hall writes, 'West of town at sunset, fields stretch to the far horizon, the last glowing rays of the day shimmer on impossibly straight rows of corn. Tassels burst, haze of golden pollen floating, rising, waiting for the rain.' Part document, part poetic exploration of the power of the past, Hall’s collection casts a spell over anyone eager to remember."

Meghan Sterling, author of Self-Portrait with Ghosts of the Diaspora and View from a Borrowed Field  

"This book of poems you’re holding is a magical trip to Delavan, Illinois, at the turn of the 20th century. Go back to a time when life and days were simpler but harder, and most of all, where family is everything.

 

Through his poems, he has cleverly retold stories of several generations – the deep prairie roots of his life. Let’s not forget the colorful townsfolk sprinkled throughout the book. I found myself laughing, sighing, and even wiping a tear as I turned these pages.

 

The sound advice from generations long gone still holds true today. His family photos make it easier for you to imagine your family as a part of this community as well.  So, unplug for a few hours and curl up and become a part of charming Delavan.

As the author writes, 'Prairie roots are deepthey say as far down as an oak tree above rises its branches to the sky.'

Nothing could be closer to the truth."

Mary Beth Bretzlauf, President, Illinois State Poetry Society

“I was charmed by this collection. Prairie Roots—documenting a vanishing way of life, a smalltown, rural Midwestern sensibility, landscape, worldview—the idea of America (Americana) is front-and-center. And narrative elements carry the day. As in any compelling narrative, there are moments that stand out: that first meal of bacon and eggs (which, of course, recurs later at the house’s 100th anniversary); that first bag of potato chips; those missing boys on Mother’s Day; poor Wendell nearly drowning in the Mackinaw at the ripe old age of 75. But it’s the voice of these poems—earnest, sincere, joyous, loving—that sustains the collection. That and its depiction of that aforementioned “milieu”—a time and place that’s rendered in three-dimensional depth.

 

 I love 'To a Father Dying Young,' 'Time to Dance,' and 'Prairie Sunset' as the last three poems. 'Time to Dance' because it reflects the tone of this collection so well, and 'Prairie Sunset' because it’s such a nice commentary on the passing of time—the uneasy borderland between the AI algorithm and the heartland. And 'To a Father Dying Young' does such a great job of capturing the experience of losing (and later finding again) your dad.”

TJ Beitelman, author of three collections of poetry: In Order to Form a More Perfect Union, Americana, and This Is the Story of His Life. He currently directs the creative writing program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham

 

 

 

Reviews

 

"A physician honors his matrilineal history in this poetry collection.

Hall’s collection serves as an homage to his mother Ruth’s family and the legacy of their nearly 110-year-old home in Delavan, Illinois, which is still owned by the family and opened every holiday season by the author. Starting at the dawn of the 20th century, Hall chronicles the lives of his maternal grandparents, Ray and Marguerite Lillibridge, as they endure famine, war, and loss, marry, and build the house—called the Lillibridge House—in which they raise their seven children. Some poems are told in from a third-person omniscient perspective, but most inhabit the points of view of Hall’s family members, particularly Ruth. Family letters and photos are used throughout to punctuate these emotional beats, which attempt to balance a rosy nostalgia for a bygone Midwestern, semi-rural life with the realities of the Great Depression (“Black Thursday”) and humanity’s vulnerability to nature’s whim (“No money to build houses. / If barns and silos need repair, / folks try to fix it themselves, / before hiring Dad, then asking / him to put their bills on the books”). Stray dogs are likened to “tramps,” a local minister opposes a school dance, bedpans are used, and “hoboes” prepare for prairie fires. Beyond the family is an eclectic cast of neighbors, including Mrs. Stewart, the kleptomaniac, and Ike Diekhoff, the iceman. Hall eventually inserts himself into this layered narrative when he is born into the family, but he is at his most compelling elegizing the past.

 

The thesis for this collection can be found in the poem “Center of the World,” situated at the volume’s midpoint: “A small house, on a quiet street, / in a small town, built a century ago… place where the past, and thoughts / beyond remote memory of the past, / awaken from shadow.” In his acknowledgments, Hall casts his mother as the family’s oracle; naturally, he plays the role of archivist. What has been preserved is largely positive: Ray and Marguerite’s courtship and marriage, ample family meals around a table, Ruth and her sisters vowing not to marry far from their family unit. These memories are punctuated by spare, pastoral imagery, like the “pale gold” of grain fields and “apples fresh off the tree.” And as these details paint a clear salt-of-the-earth, Whitmanesque picture, the reader wonders about the darker side of bearing witness to such a tumultuous time; poverty and homelessness appear but never truly penetrate the family’s narrative. There is a passage from “Walking Back in Time” about Delavan’s history as an Underground Railroad stop (“Hundreds of enslaved folks passed // through Delavan to freedom / on the Underground Railroad. Abraham / Lincoln walked these streets, / working as a circuit lawyer”), but Hall refrains from delving into the racial dynamics of the time (or gender issues, for that matter). This is not a work concerned with universalizing familial dynamics and memories. Hall ultimately succeeds in aligning his stanzas like the sturdy beams of a house, sheltering stories past and yet to come. A family’s story set to verses that showcase both the strengths and weaknesses of nostalgia."

Kirkus Reviews, April 22, 2024

 

Media Appearances

 

  • Emerging Writer Profile, Sapling #753, April 29, 2024 

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