Sweat Stained Review: Confessions of a Blue Collar Misfit

A Ballad for Hoosier Bill

By Dan Denton

I’ve been in a lot of bookstores in America, and if you’re ever in Evansville, IN there’s a great one downtown called Your Brother’s Bookstore. They’re a small, welcoming independent bookseller with a strong community vibe. There’s been locals milling about relaxing on their sofa and enjoying their space both times I’ve visited. 

I’m sure I’ll write more about them often, and soon, but this is a ballad for Hoosier Bill and it starts off with being a poet and book nerd. If you’re one of those two things, and if you’re friends with an Evansville poet, name drop said poet at Your Brother’s Bookstore’s front desk, and if the stars align, and you find fortune on your side, they’ll escort you to a secret upstairs room where a real poet will get lost for hours. 

I’m fortunate somehow to gotten to be pals with some of Evansville’s most talented writers and artists, but just before we got to know each other this dude that everyone talked about, this longtime legendary local poet named Hoosier Bill, he died in an auto accident. Everyone from Indiana poet laureates to international Beat Poet Laureate, lifetime emeritus Ron Whitehead, to local street artists have raved stories of myth and lore about Hoosier Bill, who was Indiana Beat Poet Laureate 2019-2021. It’s a tragedy that I just missed meeting him by months, just before I got to be friends with many in his local art scene. A scene that Hoosier Bill built. My heart winces wishing I’d had a chance to have coffee with him one time. I know we would have had much to talk about. I know, because in the secret room of Your Brother’s Bookstore lies Hoosier Bill’s personal library. 

Last year, in March of 2023 I was a featured poetry reader at the Bokeh Lounge in Evansville. As I often do, I found a local bookstore to visit. Some people visit surfer bars, collect bumper stickers and souvenirs from t-shirt barns. I go to bookstores. On that visit to Your Brother’s Bookstore, I said the right things, the stars aligned, and I found myself spending a few hours digging through Hoosier Bill’s library. Let’s just say there are hundreds of books I wish I owned in that collection, but none of them are for sale. I tried a few different ways of bartering for an Amiri Baraka limited issue chapbook. No dice. 

I was fortunate enough to feature again at Bokeh Lounge yesterday. And this time I was prepared to spend even more time digging through the secret library upstairs at the bookstore, pre-poetry reading. And I did. There’s boxes of zines, hand made and otherwise, full of poets we all know, and many we don’t, but should. There’s volumes of every major poet from Bukowski to Dickinson, Ginsberg to Edna St Vincent Millay. There’s a whole Bukowski shelf, and at least a shelf or two of Beat literature including a second issue of Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind. Hoosier Bill was heavy on supporting local poets and all of my friends that are in the Evansville scene and surrounding 100 mile radius, all their books are there, some in duplicate. 

In spending hours with the man’s library, a book lover and blue collar poet like me could almost get a feel for who he was. You can trace his early literary influences to the literature he loved in his last days. 

This trip I scored a copy of Hoosier Bill’s last book. ‘Retrospective of a Performance Poet,’ published just after his heartbreaking exit from this world. The book, from Pure Sleeze Press, features a foreword by Ron Whitehead, and an intro from Jonathan S. Baker, who also edited the project. I won’t give the beauty of the book away, you should get your own copy, take your own trails of discovery in life. But the book: it’s beautiful in so many brilliant tender ways. 

William Sovern, aka Wild Bill, or Hoosier Bill, founded the Poetry Speaks poetry and performance series at the incredible Bokeh Lounge many years ago, and he built, fostered and mentored a growing community of artists over a few decades that still preach his inclusive love, tolerance, and boundary defying, genre twisting art lessons and philosophies. That scene of artists have wrapped me and my poetry in warm group hugs for a few years now. 

I’ll never get to meet Hoosier Bill. My heart hurts a little about it. I can only dream the stories he’d tell me. The poetry adventures he’d embellish. The laughing memories he’d share, the war stories he wouldn’t. Hoosier Bill was a Vietnam Veteran, and a long time marijuana advocate. I have no doubt I’d sit entertained and schooled for hours with the Indiana outlaw poet. Smoking a few good joints, sitting with the mentor and guide to untold dozens. The legend of the streets of Evansville. 

I’ll never get that afternoon coffee jag with Hoosier Bill, but I tell you, if you love poetry. If you love it in your heart like it’s a weighted blanket for 2am anxiety, and if you’re ever in Evansville, IN on a Tuesday afternoon, you too could spend some time sitting with his ghost. You can feel him smiling from the corner of a dimly lit secret room in a local indie bookstore while you marvel and drool over the books he spent his life collecting and absorbing. You can feel the spirit of Hoosier Bill wrap his arm around you as Evansville poets tell you about how he paid them to feature read once, because featured readers should get something, and if you’re lucky, if you find fortune, the very ghost of Hoosier Bill will hug you as those carrying the torch of his memory in their hearts reach into their pockets, giving you money for your featured reading, passing on the valuable community building life lessons of their champion. If you’re real fortunate Wild Bill Sovern will escort you on your way out of town the next morning, before you head down Interstate 69. If you’re lucky, his poems and his legacy will ride shotgun with you for a hundred Indiana miles. 

This trip to Evansville, the spirit and traditions of William Sovern, the great Indiana poet, his love and energy seemed to follow me throughout my meandering adventures. I tell ya, man, I’ve been a poetry lover and book nerd for twice as long as I’ve been alive, and I would have loved to share poems and trade book recommendations with Hoosier Bill, but this trip, I drove down Interstate 69 with his last book in my arms, and I’ll be damned if I ain’t felt like a street poet, secret outlaw handshake ever since. 

Dan Denton is a lifetime blue collar man that once served as a UAW chief union steward. Last year he left the factory security to bump and grind as a writer and touring poet. His latest novel, The Dead and the Desperate, is available now from most American booksellers. 


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