Celebration marks 169th birthday of renowned Macon poet Lanier

Sunday’s birthday bash for Macon poet Sidney Lanier was simultaneously a step in the past and a step forward.

As Suzanne Doonan portrayed Lanier champion Dolly Blount Lamar as she looked in 1935, three Westside High School sophomores stepped up from the crowd in turns in a reading of Lanier’s poem “Song of the Chattahoochee.” His poem led to the naming of Lake Lanier.

The celebration attended by about 60 people Sunday was to honor the 169th birthday of Lanier, a Macon poet and musician who was born in the same High Street home that is preserved in his memory and honor. Events such as the birthday celebration are meant to introduce more people -- and especially more generations of people -- to Lanier, said Daniel Groce of Historic Macon Foundation, which runs the cottage.

Enter the poetry-reading ensemble of Westside High students -- Kaelin Tharpe and Bailey Vincent, both 15, and DeShauna Davis, 16, -- who learned more about Lanier in their rehearsals and said he deserves to be remembered.

Lanier is in line to get both more and less attention through the works of local historian Marty Willett, who himself dressed as 1930s historian Douglas Southall Freeman for a talk on Lanier’s relevance. Willett, clad in six shades of brown and a plaid tie, said Lanier is remembered in at least 90 memorials across the nation.

Willett said he’s spent the past eight years greeting visitors at the Sidney Lanier Cottage who come from around the world to learn more about the poet.

Willett is focused on finishing a fresh biography of Lanier and putting more attention on the poet who saw poetry as a way of rehabilitating Southern culture after the Civil War. With the biography, Willett will be focusing on an American author who he says has received more attention after his death than anyone except perhaps Herman Melville. Lanier saw poetry as, at its essence, music, Willett said.

“Music is love in search of word,” Lanier wrote. But a different line appears on a granite boulder marking his tomb, a line from his last poem: “I am lit with the sun.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.