Open Salon: Monadnock Pastoral Blog http://open.salon.com/blog/monadnock_pastoral
SEPTEMBER 15, 2014, 4:12PM
Poetry in A Park Reaching Back Five Millenia
Some days things converge just right to make them special. Saturday, September 14, 2014, Poetry in the Park in Nashua was such a day. The cool, raw November-like weather kept the crowd down but poetry well-spoken can transcend that weather and for that thin read line listening on the lawn, it did. But that should be expected of good poetry. (And yes, thin read line is a pun in a couple of ways. What else are poets to do?)
But it was and is the last poet of the day that demands focus. Henry Walters is just 30, and his first book, Field Guide A Tempo, will come out in a few weeks from Hobblebush Books Granite State Poetry Series. (A plug rather than a pun.) I wanted to hear this poet live, in front of a breathing audience.
Walters is a birder—no more than that–a falconer, a musician, a classics graduate of Harvard–and lives in a Thoreau-like cabin in the woods above the Dublin School in Dublin, N.H., likely with a fine view of Monadnock itself. In some poems, he uses that precise nomenclature of the birder not to describe birds, but to observe humans, leaving the reader or listener with the distinct—and rather eerie– impression of being transported inside the head of a raptor and experiencing yourself observed by the calculating eye of a an entity at the top of his or her particular food chain. An entity not hungry but aware that down the line he might become hungry.
Many poets would stop there, justly satisfied with the craft, but not Walters. He then layers all his poetry with musical structure. And why not? After all poetry and music are, if not identical twins, at least fraternal twins. When the Irish ask a poet to “Give us a song.” They expect words that sing. Walters’ words sing.
Most of those few poets who had not stopped earlier, would have stopped smugly here secure in their mastery of the American idiom, but not Walters. He dares to accomplish an almost un-American thing. He puts his classical training to work and wraps it all with the aura of the classics—lifting it beyond the confinement of the Northern New Word and encapsulating five thousand years of Western culture. As poet Rosanna Warren says, he is “… unafraid of ecstasy, this poet has stolen Hermes’ tortois-lyre and on it he plays tunes at once ancient and violently new. Every line ignites.”
If a poet can go much farther, I’m not sure where or how. Perhaps the Eastern Culture which I’m not saying Walters might not tackle next. Had this been the end of the day, I would have been satisfied. But it wasn’t.
Finally, came the moment I had waited for, the voice itself. Does he speak his poetry with the same conviction with which he writes it?
If you think I’ve been hyperbolic before, patience. Seven poets had read, many with song lilting off their words. For an hour or so a large hawk had been circling the half shell above the lawns. Poets spoke, poets sang, the hawk rode the thermals. But as Hobblebush publisher Sid Hall introduced the final reader, Henry Walters, the hawk descended and perched on the edge of the half shell roof–a healthy, large, young redtail. It perched quietly and eyed all of us on the lawns until Walters took the stage and then it slowly flapped away. For the life of me, it was if Virgil in the guise of a hawk had come down to consecrate this moment, to let us know there are many stars in the poetry galaxy, but this one is a comet.
Does he make his words sing? You be the judge. Listen to the three poems which won Walters the online journal Better #5 2014 poetry contest.
Hyperbole? Maybe. Perhaps it was one of Walters’ hawks recognizing him from the past, but no one will convince me it wasn’t Virgil reincarnated introducing Henry Walters’ first book of poetry to the world.
If you love poetry, remember this day.
ps: And there is other song in the Granite State as well: For N.H.’s finest classical music, the NH Symphony plays Sunday Oct. 5, at Peterborough Town House