As someone who has portrayed Mark Twain for a number of years, Richard Garey knows the famous author's boyhood home pretty well.
As someone who has portrayed Mark Twain for a number of years, Richard Garey knows the famous author’s boyhood home pretty well.
Garey has taken inspiration from Hannibal, its people, its history and its most well-known son and turned it into a collection of poems.
“I’m fascinated with the role Hannibal played in (Twain’s) life and in his work and in his art, so I’ve done a lot of research into the history of Hannibal and the people who inhabited this place,” Garey said in an interview in Hannibal’s Planters Barn Theater, where he’s portrayed Twain in shows for 15 years.
The result is “Hannibal At the Door,” more than 100 poems reflecting life in Hannibal during the 1800s, when young Sam Clemens and his friends played in caves and on the riverfront.
Garey’s poems broadly address the theme of place.
Hannibal was one of the first permanent settlements west of the Mississippi River — then international territory prior to the 1804 Louisiana purchase that nearly doubled the land mass of the United States. In that time, Hannibal was pioneer territory and the townspeople had a certain “swagger” associated with pushing boundaries and exploration.
Garey said he wanted to preserve that swagger and write in the vernacular and syntax of the time — much like how he performs to replicate Twain’s voice and vocal mannerisms.
“They are the people that this town is built on,” Garey said. “They’re the people that built it, were here, played roles of one kind or another and it’s the full range of society. They get to speak again.”
He avoided using the “king’s speech” — the attempt by some people of the time to maintain a distinctly British and/or proper form of language — in his poems.
“One of the things I admire about Sam Clemens is that he made American speech literary,” he said.
More inspiration came from the home Garey and his wife Patricia bought a year ago. The Robards mansion on N. 6th St., with its longstanding historical significance — including a stay by Sam Clemens himself — provided a point of departure for Garey’s poems. The Gareys have spent time renovating the historic property.
“Just the whole atmosphere of this house — a flood of memory came back and I started remembering the people who stayed there,” he said.
Garey also took inspiration from his time on riverboat cruises, where he regularly performs as Twain. In between working at the Robards mansion and on the Mississippi River, he would study Hannibal and its history. Poems reflecting that period of Americana came naturally, he said.
Hannibal is a particularly “American” place, Garey described, making a collection of poems easy to compile. There’s a universal quality to the themes in the poem reflective of Hannibal. Instead of living in segregated hamlets, Hannibal has a diverse quality that reflects the foundation of America, Garey said.
“Hannibal feels like coming home,” he said.
Garey said reaction to poetry readings on riverboat cruises have been positive and encouraging.
Garey will read from his book at an event at 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in downtown Hannibal. Garey will be available to sign copies of the work. Light refreshments will be served.
The book is available for purchase at the Planters Barn Theater, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum gift shop, the Mark Twain Bookstore, the Mark Twain Riverboat, and on Amazon.
Reach editor Eric Dundon at firstname.lastname@example.org .