We follow I-55 looking for a state highway, then take it into a regional park where we pick up the first of two dirt roads on our way to Yopo, a tiny town about twenty miles from Kankakee, Illinois. When we pull up, the poet Lars Fad is waiting on a large painted glider. He gives a big wave and heads over to us. He is wearing a striped shirt, long khaki shorts, and flip flops. It is 33 degrees and it is raining like that scene in Year of Living Dangerously.
He shakes my hand and kisses my suprised wife's outstretched hand in a sort of continental fashion and then the three of us go inside his log cabin. "I built it myself," Fad says. "From a kit. It's really quite simple if one follows directions well and has an inordinate amount of time and patience. Of course it helps to have an endless supply of grad students, too." His laugh is high and piercing.
Fad shows us around, lets my wife hook up our laptop at his kitchen table, and then he and I go into his study to talk. He's fascinated by my minidisc recorder and only drops it once while turning it over and over like it was a shiny stone. "You look tired," Fad says, by way of getting us started.
Fad has lived in Yopo for the past fifteen years, writing and publishing his work widely in literary magazines all around the country. His second book has just been released, Two Nights in a Castle (Kankakee University Press), and he's giddy about the future.
"I turned my back on New York and the publishing world a dozen years ago," he says. "I turned my back on all of them. And here I am." He slaps his hands flat down on his legs. "Tenure. Books. This cabin, really my sanctuary. It's a sacred place to me," he says, suddenly solemn, almost whispering.
He tilts his head back and admires the open beam rafters. "In this room, my friend. In this room I let the muse dance with me." He looks at me, nods a bit, closes his eyes.
After we finish our chat, he brews up some cinammon tea on a large wood stove. He invites my wife out back now that it has stopped raining and he points out mushrooms on the ground. "Later," he says, "some of my students are coming out and we're going to use the mushrooms in a nice barley soup I make from scratch."
I shoot some photos of Fad out in his back yard. He first of all runs inside to get his cape. We shake hands all around, this time with Fad embracing me furiously and whispering: "Keep writing. Keep the words coming." He whispers something to my wife as well, but I can't make it out. She rolls her eyes once we're in the car.
We're backing out down the muddy bog of Fad's driveway when suddenly we spot him running toward us with a book in his hand. "My first book," he shouts in at me. "I'd like to give you a copy."
"Thanks very much," I say, reaching out my hand.
He lays the book open on the hood of the car. "It's out of print of course. Those sons of bitches in Urbana froze me out years ago. I told them I would rather photocopy my next book then have them make a mess of it." He tilts his head at me and poises a pen over one of the first inside pages. "It's ten bucks unsigned. But if I sign it, I'll have to charge you fifteen."