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Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America

Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America - William D Waltz What are you looking to read next? What will convince you to reach for a volume of contemporary poetry, maybe this one? Is there anything I can report about these poems that will help you judge correctly whether or not they will appeal to you? I hope so, I will try.

I can't best the power, brevity, and accuracy of Bob Hicok's blurb on the back of the book, so I will start with part of it:

"If you don't think life is wonderful and don't want to, stay away, because William Waltz has 'always half-expected / incredible journeys.' Appreciation shines through these poems, and something rare in contemporary poetry - affection for the quality and dimensions of a life."

I agree with Hicok, of course. For example, when reading these poems, it's okay to laugh at images and/or fascinating juxtapositions: 'In hell, / in hell there's one / season. It's called cold / cruel oatmeal but it's never / too soon to wear white slacks'. It's okay to wax nostalgic about your misspent/well-used youth: 'Entangled / in a snare of cords and cables, / Jello gently unnetted me.' It's okay to note and ponder recurring elements that may reveal themes, such as birds, trees, and rivers. It's even okay to ask questions and pass judgment. Does one season dominate the volume? Are the birds birds or symbols? What makes a poem succeed or fall flat? What makes some resonate?

Can you tell I'm an elementary school teacher? I give you permission to dissect the poems on some readings, if you wish. It's okay to note the use of repetition, alliteration, personification, and of course, simile, metaphor, and rhyme (there's not so much rhyme). I will use some of these poems to practice reading closely. I may use them for writing exercises. I know these are good poems because I see ways for us to mess around with some of them. One seems to have 3 parts inspired by time: 1) Later,... 2) One day I'd like to... 3) But in the meantime... I'd like to see what the children can do with that.

The lines of poetry in the book are often clear and direct, seemingly straight forward. Most lines seem grounded in reality, what's concrete. Juxtapositions, though, sometimes startle, like a Zen koan: 'The flag flying over Baker, / Montana is a cloud of prehistoric dust, / part Bitterroot, part Yellowstone,/ part mastodon, part radio transmission.' A few of the poems look like paragraphs but most are arranged in short lines of a few words, the number of lines in the stanzas vary. No lines are marred, to my ears, by something uneven, unlyrical, or unloved. There is music here! Some of the poems start with a bang, but more build to one. Here's a great line from a middle: 'For a moment, the whole world is still, suspended from the sky by threads of starlight.'

Long ago, I studied Milton, Lowell, and Bishop, among others. I had a dog-eared anthology of poetry and saw Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, and other poets read during my undergraduate years, but I have not read a lot of contemporary poetry, not really, and what I have read was often selected by this poet, because William Waltz happens to be the founder and editor of Conduit magazine, which I also recommend, though his poems and those poems are not carbon copies in any way.

Finally, William Waltz and I recently became Goodreads friends, but over twenty years ago the Plant and Soils Department at UMASS hired me for a summer job at their orchard and I worked with a poetry graduate student named Bill Waltz. Therefore, reading these poems had an added layer for me, since we have not seen each other for a long, long time. All of us can wonder if the "I" in some of the poems is the poet, or not. I can't claim to know. But did I hear Bill? Yes! And one other thing is clear: William Waltz is happy! These poems celebrate life and nature: 'Rising up / through the dark broken water, / weed and water lily parting, / we begin, a gamble / with a face. Then / we move on.' None of the poems are labeled as an ode, but most, perhaps all, push appreciation, so partake, without regret: 'There was nothing left / to do but dive in / before the smell of black / coffee and blueberry pie / reminded me how beautiful / and incomplete / my communion was / and would be until / it was no longer."