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Will Walker

Will Walker

I find poetry mysterious, don’t you? I’m trying to remember when it first started to assume a special place in my life. I guess that would have to be the eighth grade when my English teacher, Ted Reese, assigned a poem by E. A. Robinson, called Karma. I wrote an essay about it that he called the finest schoolboy treatment of the poem he’d ever read. It was a dark little poem, and haunting.

Fast forward a few years: I find I’m writing poetry. The reasons for this are about as clear as the reasons I have fallen in love with a girl I met at a dance, who can’t pronounce “Prokofiev” and who smokes Newport menthol cigarettes.

I go to college at a time when Sylvia Plath has just recently managed to snuff herself out, John Berryman is edging towards a bridge in Minnesota, and Robert Lowell has not yet failed to get out of the backseat of that cab in Manhattan. Poetry is a serious business, and I am a serious young man.

Then my father gets cancer and dies, my mother remarries, my family gets scattered to the four winds, and I relocate from Boston to San Francisco. I settle down and develop what we can euphemistically call writer’s block.

Years later I start writing more, and pretty soon (if you view my life as a movie montage) I am writing, writing, writing.

Why is this?

As long as it keeps up, I’m not inclined to question the process too closely.

I write poetry that I want people to read. I start by trying to write poetry that I myself am willing to reread some months after I write it. I do not challenge myself or anyone else to struggle mightily to deconstruct syntax, study up on ancient mythology, master the rules of curling, or learn Sanskrit. My sly hope is that, if someone cares enough about a poem to reread it a few times over the course of a few years, resonance will accrue to it based on the changes in the person’s life, not on the struggle to open the poem to its core.

As I’ve heard Marie Howe put it, nobody particularly cares about my poetry. I’ve got to seduce the reader, to make him or her want to read the next line, to present my experience with enough resonance to light up a dark corner in the reader’s psyche.

But also it’s not just a trick or sleight of hand. As Frost put it, No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. I’m not wedded to the notion that it’s always one’s goal to make the reader cry; laughter is just as welcome, and more necessary on some days for both writer and reader. Still, I don’t aspire to be admired for the dexterity of my trickery.


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