Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dancing in Slow Motion

Reading the latest issue of Louisiana Life magazine on Sunday, there was an article about the distinctive flavor of the southern idiom, and how on occasion children are the ones doing the correcting. Though I did at one point years ago suffer through a form of elocution lessons designed to make me sound less southern, I’m not sure I agree with the notion of trying to ‘correct’ or eliminate the native sounds that define a regional idiom. Isn’t it akin to making our language into a familiar coast to coast bland vanilla? I especially enjoy literature and poetry that has a slight country twang, and one of the poems in my notebook of favorites has that relish. I don’t want to imply that Walt McDonald always comes out sounding like Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry, but the southern country flavor is unmistakeable in his words and lines, no matter how grammatical. 

McDonald has written a lot of books, a whole lot of poems, received a list of awards and been published in all the top magazines. A native of Texas, he served as Texas Poet Laureate in 2001 and in 2002 retired from Texas Tech University after thirty-one years as the Paul Whitfield Horn Professor Emeritus.

He had this to say about Texas and poetry…
When my first book was published—mainly war poems—a friend asked, ‘Where’s Texas in your poems, Walt?’ I didn’t know. But I started looking around and, sure enough, I began to feel the call of my wild, native West Texas. For years, I had not considered this world to be my home. But, when I let down my bucket in a plains region doomed to dry up, I found all sorts of images for poems, even if I could live to write for forty years in that suddenly fabulous desert… Every poem is a metaphor of how it feels to someone to be alive at some time, at some place. I didn’t write many poems before I came back from Vietnam, so I may be wrong, but I think that’s what a poem becomes…a good story or poem expresses some of the splendor we all need.

The poem below is from his 1998 collection, Blessings the Body Gave
Pulling our Stetsons low, we whispered songs
to sweethearts who clung so close we danced
in slow motion, heartache of steel guitars,
vows we swore with our bones. Their hair was the air
for an hour. We breathed and held them close,
ignoring the war for the night, voices
on jukebox wax winding around like a rope.
One week we kissed them hard and rode off,

swearing we'd bring back silk and souvenirs.
Long after a war no one we cared for
survived without scars, Earl and I are here
with wives as old as country songs and guitars,
our children older than all of us that fall.
Don's a name on the wall in Washington.
I hear his name sometimes in questions
at class reunions. I haven't heard from Carl.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, I like the straightforward poem with relatable images for Everyman, images that quickly evoke memories or the feeling of sameness in experience in the reader. Let someone else ponder for a day the meaning of a single line.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America