Wendy S. Walters: In These Times

14 Feb

This past week an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.8 shook the small town of Pingree Grove, IL forty miles northwest of Chicago. The earthquake was 1600 times milder than the one that tore down Port-au-Prince a month ago. Despite the lack of catastrophe, the Illinois earthquake caused rattling in many homes throughout the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone. The quake appears to have happened along an unknown fault line, which seems to suggest that there may be a number of small fractures extending throughout the state.

In an unrelated incident, two coyotes were seen wandering around the Columbia University campus in upper Manhattan in early morning hours over the weekend. Their appearance was noted by several students and confirmed by campus police, who were unable to apprehend the animals as they fled from the attention of worried onlookers. Weeks earlier, another coyote had been spotted wandering the neighborhood of West Harlem. For those unfamiliar with the area, West Harlem and Morningside Heights, where Columbia is located, are heavily urbanized. The presence of coyote in these regions is unusual, as they tend to be intimidated by people, traffic and loud noises. It is unclear what suffices for prey in these environs.

Lately I spend a lot of time trying to locate the geography of the work. I believe the writing is someplace. While always true, facts of location are always temporary. And while current events seem to confirm this point for me over and over, somehow I still go out to try and find the line. Whether this is a problem with poetry or a problem with me matters less, I think, than the mistake of not feeling how much wildness is naturally occurring wherever it is the search for the poem takes me.

In these times, naturally occurring wildness has me worried. (How about you?) I do not know how to put events in order. I do not know how often catastrophe is the beginning or end of the word. (What do you think?) The point of the poem makes less sense once it is done than when I am doing it. Whenever I smell futility, I hunt my work down to destroy it. Whenever I feel the ground beneath me cracking, I let my work fall into the chasm. (How do you do it?) Still I think to be subsumed by fear is one kind of avoidable madness. To put the words in order might be a way of noting the difference between now and now. To put the words in order could also be catching my breath. Then there it goes.

Wendy S. Walters


Wendy S. Walters’ work resides at the intersection of the poem, essay and lyric drama. She is the author of Longer I Wait, More You Love Me (2009) and a chapbook, Birds of Los Angeles (2005), both published by Palm Press (Long Beach, CA). Walters’ poetry has been recognized with residency fellowships from Breadloaf, MacDowell and Yaddo, and her poems have recently appeared in Callaloo, HOW2, Natural Bridge, Seneca Review and the Yalobusha Review,Seneca Review, Seattle Review, and Harper’s Magazine. among several others.

4 Responses to “Wendy S. Walters: In These Times”

  1. evie February 17, 2010 at 2:41 am #

    wendy,hi! thanks for your post. i'm thinking a lot about lucille clifton right now, but i feel certain that even under other circumstances, your post would have reminded me of her poem "signs." it begins: "when the birds begin to walk / when the crows in their silk tuxedos / stand in the road and watch / as oncoming traffic swerves to avoid / the valley of dead things . . . "strange days. and how to capture them in poems? every lifting of my pen is, so far, an unsatisfying attempt to answer that question.thanks for your post. i have your book and am looking forward to having the time to sit down with it.peace.

  2. Stacy Parker Aab February 15, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Thank you for this, Wendy. Living in the city, too, I often won't open myself enough to contemplate the wildness around me. At least not for more than a few uncertain moments. A toast, then: to contemplation; to catching our breath.

  3. Lyle Daggett February 15, 2010 at 2:38 am #

    Robert Bly in an essay suggested that literary style might be "recognizing and remembering the flavor of the decade when one became an adult." In elaborating further, he suggested also that the place where that occurred is as important in defining a writer's style as the time when it happened: Thomas Hardy's writing, for example, being infused with the language and texture of Sussex in the 1880's.That's the only specific example Bly gives; it seems to me this could have validity, even if a writer doesn't write literally or specifically about the actual place they lived or grew up. The writing itself might nevertheless be flavored by that time and place.Other examples I think of, randomly and offhand, might be Zora Neale Hurston's writing, rooted in small-town Florida; Willa Cather's novels set in Nebraska farm country even when the ostensible subject might have been far from any farm; poet James Wright whose poem landscapes were forever shaded by the gray milltowns where he grew up on the Ohio river.Anyway I thought of Bly's remarks when I read your blotpost here. As you said, the writing is someplace. I think this is, very much, related to the wildness you talk about. Wildness is, clearly, connected to particular places, and the presence of (for instance) coyotes in the middle of Manhattan is a reminder that the city was itself once a wild place, that we ourselves are, in part, creatures of the wild world.

  4. Colleen McKee February 14, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    That was really thoughtful. I was compelled to read it several times. I especially like that line, "how often catastrophe is the beginning or end of the word."

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