Looking for Shiloh [Book]

Looking for Shiloh (1968) was the last collection of poetry published by Edsel Ford before his death at the age of forty-one in 1970. Ford spent much of his childhood in northwestern Arkansas and majored in journalism at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). This collection was selected from more than 450 submitted manuscripts to receive the Devins Memorial Award and to be published by the University of Missouri Press. A second printing of the collection was made in 1970.

By the late 1960s, Ford was a leading regional poet who was receiving significant national recognition. Ford had served as editor of the “Golden Country” poetry column in the Ozark Mountaineer since February 1958, served as media director of the Ozarks Crafts and Art Association since 1960, and published widely in regional and national publications. He had also won several poetry prizes, including the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, and had published eight books of poetry.

This final collection contains forty-five poems, most of which had been previously published in various newspapers, magazines, and journals, such as the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Georgia Review, the Kansas City Star, Mademoiselle, the Massachusetts Review, New Orleans Review, the New York Herald Tribune, the Ozarks Mountaineer, and Southwest Review. The short poem “Morning Song” serves as a prologue, and the others are divided into three sections: “Tourists at Mid-Moment,” “Sitting for a Portrait,” and “For All That Is.”

Among the poems that directly engage elements of life in Arkansas is the title poem, “Looking for Shiloh,” which introduces key themes that run through the collection. In this poem, the narrator and a companion travel an Arkansas back road looking for a place called Shiloh, probably the crossroads community of Shiloh in western Newton County. After following the narrowing and fading road for several miles, they cease their search and return to the highway. The biblical name of Shiloh connotes a place of peace and contentment, and this poem may suggest that such peace is elusive and that perhaps the past sense of place and community are beyond recovery. In the closing lines, Ford also ponders if tomorrow’s poems, like this Shiloh of Arkansas, are simply too deep to be found today.

Other poems in Looking for Shiloh with direct connection to the Arkansas Ozarks include “White River Float,” “Night Drowning,” “Class of ’52,” “About Grandpa Who Died Poor,” “At the County Fair,” “Taking Stock,” “Country Store,” “Camp Meeting,” and “At the Fair Again.” These poems focus on several elements commonly associated with the region, such as the sublimity of river floats, the dangers and violence of rivers, the hope and despair experienced by rural college graduates, the self-pride of a country grandfather shunned by relatives, the provincial pomp of a county fair, and the fervor and gluttony witnessed at religious camp meetings.

Although Ford identified with the Arkansas Ozarks and worked to preserve and promote the area’s beauty and traditional culture, the majority of the poems in Looking for Shiloh are set outside the region. Poems such as “Seascape: An Interior,” “Pecos River,” “Flight 70,” “Low Tide at Fire Island,” “Low Mass for Hyannis,” and “The Road to Hanoi” illustrate the increasing breadth of Ford’s topics and themes. Such variety and Ford’s growing stature as a poet outside the region suggest that at the time of his early death, Ford was poised to become an influential voice in American poetry.

For additional information:
Anderson, Clay. “Bard of the Golden Country.” Ozarks Mountaineer (October 1970): 16–17.

“Edsel Ford Dies; Arkansas Poet, 41.” New York Times, February 21, 1970, p. 31.

Ford, Edsel. Looking for Shiloh. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1968.

Williams, Nancy A., ed. Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Woodward, Clyde Marcus. “Edsel Ford: Poet Immortal.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas, 1975.

Phillip Howerton
Missouri State University

Last Updated: 06/16/2020

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