Maybe it’s a cliche but it seems to me that today’s young people have a whole lot to deal with. They have access to things previous generations could never have dreamed of. On the other hand, the perils that await them (all of us, actually) seem more invincible with each passing day. What could something as old-hat and seemingly removed from the “real” world as poetry POSSIBLY offer them? Quite a bit, this amazing collection shows us, starting with hope for the future and faith in their own humanity.
I was deeply impressed by two previous books by Mr. Walton, LSD Giggles and To Your Health: Humanity’s Diagnosis. You can find my reviews of them on this blog. To any readers of those books, this one might be rather shocking at first. I was initially startled to read Walton dealing so openly with emotions. His other books were startling in their ability to step back from the personal. That’s not easy for any writer, especially today. However, once the surprise wears off, it is heartening to see that Walton’s poetic skills can deal expertly with all different kinds of subjects. “Love Poem,” which opens the book, is not what the title leads you to believe but is still deeply moving and passionate. Several poems seem to deal with Walton’s own feelings and life experiences. Whether they are familiar to you or not, any reader can learn from the insights he draws from them and be moved by his sensitive poetic treatment.
Intriguingly, despite the more emotional nature of this book, Mr. Walton has not abandoned the larger themes in his earlier work. On the contrary, there is an even more urgent edge to them here. One of the themes of this book is the rejection of intellectual imprisonment. If we will ourselves to be free, nothing can stop us. Put that way, it might sound naive but that is not the case reading the poetry. Walton doesn’t ignore the dangers of freedom (in all its many forms) but he urges us to fight for it anyway. Without it, or at least the fight for it, what else could there really be? Of course, freedom can mean many different things. The poems in this book know that and encourage readers to find what freedom means for them. In terms of art, Walton’s respectful but non-reverential references to earlier poets is one of the book’s most appealing points. He reminds me of Walt Whitman in the original preface to Leaves of Grass. The past must be accepted, but not worshiped. We learn from it but we shouldn’t let it conquer us.
By far the most powerful theme in this book is the pride it takes in the messiness, the chaos and the vitality of being human. The final line from the previously published “Pacified America,” maybe the best poem in the book (although that’s a tough choice to make), is the summation of this: “The human condition is re-humanized.” Readers who pick up this incredible book will find that that line caps a deeply disturbing piece. However, it still stands as an absolutely necessary cry to rediscover what is innate about ourselves. Rediscover it and revel in it.