Ted (Edward Walker) Walker Laurence Lieberman - Essay

Laurence Lieberman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In many of Ted Walker's poems, language facility works against the poet's eye; too many words with puzzling overtones, or connotations, pile up too fast, and the reader must strain to get past the impenetrable phrasing to anything behind it, beyond it…. Walker is more successful when a vividly pictured scene is kept sharply before the reader's eye until the finish, while meanings subtly add up to a forceful statement, inseparable from the persons or events which call them forth.

His best poems are the ones in which he dramatizes segments of being that have been crushed or suppressed by the conditions of civilized life, "wants kept caged on roofs / of the mind's tenements." Somehow, the dark neglected zones in the spirit hiddenly survive all the damages our indifference and half-aliveness can inflict…. In weaker poems, the shifts from description to message—statement of human analogy—are abrupt and unaccountable, and jar in the reader's ear. In the best poems, these two movements are carried on simultaneously, joined and jointed, seamlessly, in the poem's drama. The story movement—with animal protagonist in a setting that gradually shifts from a prescribed time and space to the stage of the human mind—is Walker's best mode….

In Walker's vision, our suppressed animal impulses nearly always manifest themselves in our daily lives as mildly persistent fears, incipient edginess, emerging at odd moments from no detectable source, "some close, restless agency, half-detected." But if this queer nervousness often appears dimly to be at the mere periphery of our mental life, "the lurking spy / that snipes us from the wilderness / of dreams," it is because we have fallen so far from the essential core of our being, we don't guess the deeper vacuity of our inner life and its terrors. In these poems, we learn, self-defeatingly, to cope with our wasted inner life as mules, whose "withers twitch to flies." That is as far as Walker's first collection [Fox on a Barn Door] carried this drama—the self exists in a stalemate with its terrors, half-crippled, conditioned to accept deadening compromises with loss.

But in The Solitaries, several poems deepen the vision, exploring psychic states in which the solitary human—or animal—soul, pushed or driven to harrowing extremity, finds a haunting beauty in the mere act of survival against powerful odds. (pp. 269-70)

Laurence Lieberman, in The Yale Review (© 1968 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Winter, 1968.

The main reason [Ted Walker] does so much translating is probably that his own poems are limited, as well as fuelled, by his extraordinary penetration of nature, and the seed-catalogue specificity of terminology that seems to go with that cast of mind. Take this couple of stanzas from his poem "Bonfire" [in The Night Bathers]:

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(The entire section is 1226 words.)