Campbell McGrath, a poet always willing to take on the big tasks with big lines and long poems, recently took up the effort to write verse about the “Voyage of Discovery,” and did so with remarkable success.
Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is the re-creation in verse of the sixteen days George Shannon, the youngest member of the troop, spent lost along the Missouri River in 1804. In a casual observation in his journal for August 26, William Clark noted that the company left “Shannon and Drouillard to hunt for the horses last night. Directed them to follow us, keeping on the high lands.” The next day Drouillard returned “and informed that he could find neither Shannon nor the horses.” On September 11, Clark writes that “the man who left us with the horses, 16 days ago, George Shannon … joined us, nearly starved to death.”
Two hundred years later Campbell McGrath, who reads from his work at the U-M on January 27, found his poem in that sixteen-day gap. The journals kept by the captains are touchstone documents of American history, but young Shannon, despite being one of the best-educated members of the company, did not keep a journal. McGrath has created one that might have been written—and he has found a perfect pitch between an imitation of early nineteenth-century diction and a contemporary expropriation of the story. His Shannon doesn’t sound particularly modern, but he is clear and concise in his observations.