It’s been a long while since I’ve read any poetry so it was with great interest (and pleasure) that I happened to read poet/activist Dean Walker’s debut poetry collection Hurricane: A Collection of Poems. According to the author, these poems were written over the course of dealing with his divorce so many of the poems focus on the themes of love, marriage and relationships and all the questions, complications and nuanced feelings that go along with it. These are very powerful poems, full of heartfelt emotion. A fine collection to say the least, and a window into how one deals with coming to grips with loss. My favorite poems here are Salvage, Bagged, andNo More Walls, three poems that I believe capture the essence of this powerful collection.
She rummages through dumpsters / procuring old picture frames, / earthenware, and nearly-new clothes. / Scavenging back alleyways, / scouring through life’s thrown away. / Discovering emeralds, / coffee tables, and golden cows / She knows exactly where to look / By day’s end she fills the truck / Stacked dresser drawers full / of books, pearls and girly gifts / things he will never understand / Yet, he receives each found treasure / with the openness of being in love.
If I could break my own back / and lie bedridden for a year or two / I might be better off than being trapped / in this nightmare love affair with you / I might live my life as an aesthetic / or go around with a bone in my lip / I might even beg like a pathetic / creep to get away from your firm grip / You never did anything for me / That’s why I feel perplexed / Somehow you managed to extract a fee / my joy and nothing less? / I’ve never felt more entrapped / ensnared, snagged, bagged and tagged / How did you do that?
No More Walls
There are no more walls in my house / I hang my pictures on the air / My carpet is made of moss and grass / My bed is the corn husks of your heart / Your mind is the fire for my stove / I cook my soup with your words / I have no need for plates or bowls / as I dine on the wisdom of your soul / I have no need for tinted windows / nor drawn curtains and closed shutters / I have no roof, no floor, no doors / And thanks to you no secrets anymore / I have nothing left in life to hide / Now that you have robbed me blind.
The other poems in this collection use nature as a metaphor, numerous references to the environment, plants, trees, soil, flowers, seeds, vegetables, and most importantly growth. Being that the author is also an environmental activist, his use of nature in his work shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The use of the surrounding environment seems to reflect this struggle to grow within, to move on past the pain, past the loss toward rebirth.
Many of these poems are classically influenced. There are shades of the classic Greeks, the Italians and more modern poets such as Pablo Neruda. But the one poet that also comes to mind is the west coast Beat poet Gary Snyder who also used environmental imagery and metaphors in his work. But Dean Walker most definitely has his own voice here and his own mode of expression which is what makes this collection a joy to read. Highly recommended.
Rating: * * * * *
I recently caught up with Dean to discuss his debut poetry collection as well as his involvement in many political and environmental causes over the years.
You have been very active politically for many years and many of your readers know you well for your more topical articles over the years. I’ve known that you were also a poet but some readers may not be aware that you were also a very accomplished poet. Those who are more familiar with your topical writing and activism may be surprised to see these very heartfelt love poems. What made you decide on this topic rather than more political themes?
Typically I write about things my mother told me, “nice people don’t talk about in public…religion, politics, and sex”. If you think about it, both religion and sex are also political. Politics is defined as, “the activities associated with governance of country of other area, esp. the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power".
The poems in this collection are heartfelt. The central themes in this book deals with lose and vulnerabilities in intimate love relationship specifically, and within our communities generally. I have found, in most of my intimate relationships, I have experiences both empowerment and disempowerment. Love is a struggle, conflict, and a debate. Sometimes you win, while other times you lose. Having sex and falling in love with someone is the most personal and important political decision you will ever make.
I also just love poetry. I’ve been reading, studying and writing poetry since I was a teenager. It is something I have always enjoyed doing. And so, it just made sense that my first book would be a collection of poems.
In the book’s introduction you lay out your theories and thoughts on love poems, ranging from the classic to the modern poetry of Pablo Neruda - probably one of the best known poets on love there is. I find a lot of classical influences on these poems. Have the classic poets influenced you more than the modern poets or would you say it’s about the same?
I think this book reflects a balance of both classical and modern influence. In college, you are forced to read the classics. I’ve read a lot of the Metaphysical and Romantic poetry, especially poets like William Wordsworth, William Blake and John Keats. Often, I find I have more in common with the Romantic poets than I have with most modern poets.
However, Pablo Neruda’s love poems have been paramount in influence. Like much of Neruda’s work, this collection of poems is filled with modern sonnets. I’m no longer counting syllables and rhyming lines, yet many of these poems have a clear structure with stanzas and a beginning, middle and end.
Other poets that have influenced my own work would include a long list of contemporary poets including Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, Kenneth Rexroth, Garry Snyder, e e cummings, Billy Collins, Wendell Berry, Seamus Heaney and Adrienne Rich, just to name a few of the other poets that I keeping pulling off my shelf on those rainy days, perfect for poetry. All these great poets and their poems spinning in my head add-up to an eclectic whirlpool of influences which naturally seeps into my own poems.
Poetry tends to be the one form of writing where the author wears his heart on his sleeve. Many of the greatest poets did not shy away from how they felt about things that effected them, especially when it comes to the topic of love and relationships. Many of these poems express very raw emotion, which is the one thing that makes them so powerful. Did you have any reservations of “putting it out there”, allowing the reader into your most intimate thoughts?
Yes, I had many reservations. Most of these poems were written in the past ten plus years. Many were written just after my wife and I separated and went through our divorce. Perhaps the majority of the poems in this collection sat in my desk drawer for nearly a decade.
However, even though I agree this collection does “express very raw emotion”, in general, my poems are not necessarily autobiographical. In spite of the fact that most of the poems are written in the first person, the poet on these pages are a persona I use to tell the stories. Each poem is a little story.
My greatest reservations about publishing this collection came from the fact that this book explores the darker side of life, love, and addiction. Readers should not confuse my real life with the life of the poet/narrator. Additionally, having never published a book before, there is the issue of my own self-doubt.
Nature and the environment are recurring themes in your work. Some of your readers know you well for your environmental activism over the years and your support for environmental causes. While sometimes the references to nature paint a picture or set a mood in these poems I also found many of these references as a metaphor for growth, a new beginning, a sort of rebirth. Was this your intention?
Yes to all of the above. I grew-up in the suburbs of New Jersey and Georgia. In my late twenties, I moved across the country to California. Since I had the opportunity to choose where I was going to live, I was determined to find a place that was surrounded by natural beauty and not stifled in the suburbs. For seven years I lived in a tiny apartment with an ocean view on Venice Beach before moving just north of San Francisco in Sonoma County.
While I have long employed nature as a metaphor in my poetry, my move to Sonoma turned me, in many ways, into a pastoral poet. During my days, I travel around the county as a wholesale salesman. Often, I pull my vehicle off to the side of the road to snap pictures of the orchards, vineyards, rolling hills, gentle rivers, and dramatic coastline. I’m inspired every day by my surroundings.
Over the course of my life, I’ve seen wildfires turn entire communities to ash. As well as tornado, hurricanes, and floods sweep away everything people hold dearest to them. In love, we plant the seeds of our own garden. We choose to fertilize and nurture our relationships or we neglect them and let the mold cover our walls. And then nature, like a thief in the night, can sneak in and steal everything you own while you are asleep, both literally and metaphorically.
You have said that the proceeds of this collection will be used to fund The Expats Media Project. Can you tell our readers about The Expats Media Project and what it’s mission is?
The Expats Media Project is a collective of writers and artists working outside the mainstream media. Our primary site is ExpatsPost.com. Additionally, we run ExpatsPoetry.com, ExpatsArt.com, have done a Blogtalkradio podcast at Expats Radio interviewing independent artists, hosted a political talk show and have now published two ebooks, including my own book, Hurricane: A Collection of Poems and recently Lillian Taylor Stajnbaher’s collection of short-stories, A Few Perspectives: The Mermaid Chronicles and Other Stories.
We are an open social networking community that invites other writers and artists join us. Essentially we are a site meant to act as a billboard to promote artists. Most Expats authors’ articles receive thousands of unique page views. We encourage our authors cross-publishing their work and want them to provide links to their own websites. To join us, one need only read to log-in, create a profile and start posting. Expats Post offers something for everyone. Thanks for asking about the Expats Media Project.
Can you talk a little about your activism and your involvement in political causes? What are the causes most dear to you and what is your current involvement in these causes?
Yes. At the malleable age of 20, I went to work for Greenpeace USA in Atlanta, Georgia. For three years, I had the adventure of a lifetime. Greenpeace changed my life. They shaped me into a lifelong environmental and human rights activist.
When I moved to Venice Beach, I got involved in other environmental organizations. Most of the organizations I have worked or volunteered for focused on what is called non-violent direct action or civil-disobedience. Some of the environmental groups I’ve been most involved with include Greenpeace, Georgia Environmental Project, Rainforest Action Network, Action Resource Center, Free Burma, and Amazon Watch. I’m also a long time supporter of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Additionally, I’m extremely active in media freedom. Expats Post is just one example of how writers working outside the mainstream media can voice their concerns and spread the word. I’m a passionate believer in independent media. The mainstream media, even with seemingly liberal organizations like MSNBC, is completely corrupted by corporate and governmental influences.
A couple years ago, for two semesters at Sonoma State University, I interned under Dr. Peter Phillips of Project Censored. I have grown to appreciate the power of using alternative media sources to promote stories not covered in the corporate controlled mainstream media. These are the issues I’m most passionate about today.
How important you think poetry is to humanitarian causes and what poets would you say have influenced you the most and why?
I think poetry is every bit as important as any other art. You either enjoy, are moved by, influences by, and believe in Art’s importance or you don’t. Art’s importance is dependent on the user.
What other projects do you have planned for the future?
Recently, I moved from a cabin in an apple orchard I had been renting for over ten year to purchasing my first house. I now live amongst the towering redwoods and across the street from the Russian River. I plan on improving on my home and land and writing poems, short-stories, articles and taking photographs.
For personal reasons, I’ve been absent from Expats Post for the last few months. I plan on refocusing my efforts with the media project and help flourish the free resource available to other writers and artists.
Other than that, I’m happy just living, exploring and nurturing the world that surrounds me.
Dean Walker is a writer of essays, news articles, short stories and poems. He has contributed over 100 essays and news articles on citizen journalist websites and blogs such as GroundReport.comandProjectCensored’sDailyCensored.org. He is also an avid environmental and human rights activist. He is also the publisher of ExpatsPost. For more information about the author, please visit his website.