a tempo

Last modified: 12/3/2014 2:45:09 PM
They first heard that guest interviewee was “a poet who liked birds and had just published his first book.” They came because it was a chance to observe how a “real” interview is conducted. They admitted honestly and sheepishly that their expectations were low. And yet, within two minutes of meeting and talking to Henry Walters, everything was different. Walters had the five ConVal newspaper club students laughing, asking questions, leaning forward in their seats, and sharing their own thoughts on poetry and life. In other words, they were totally engaged.

“I guess you’re just really different than I expected,” said newspaper editor and senior at ConVal Regional High School, Sarah Hurley, at the end of the meeting. “You’re so real and inspiring.”

“Real” and “inspiring” — two words that appropriately sum up not only Walters, but his first book of poetry “Field Guide: A Tempo” as well.

Walters grew up in Indiana and southern Michigan, “constantly involved in writing and the natural world.” He studied Latin and Greek at Harvard College and then moved to New Hampshire to get “back to nature.” Along the way, he traveled to Italy to study beekeeping and Ireland to study falconry. Birds, Walters told the students, have been another constant theme in his life. “It seems silly, but birding just gets into your blood.”

In his book, Walters weaves together the themes of music, birds, identification, and nature creating a “Field Guide” for life, a guide that feels both intensely personal, completely universal, and totally real.

The book emerged from his own experiences and became, as Walters explained, “notes for a taxonomy of the world.” But instead of one fixed system of scientific order, the poems seek “relations of images, of cadences, of musical forms.” Although he writes every day, sometimes in a private journal, often as letters, or articles, and despite the fact that some of the poems in “Field Guide A Tempo” have appeared in other publications, creating the book was a seven year process, Walters told the ConVal students.

The book is structured in “movements.” Each movement includes three parts: a stream of consciousness poem, a sonnet, and a “freer, more open poem.”

The first poem in each “movement” gives the reader direction as to the speed of the piece, as in classical music. The poem “Presto” is meant to be spoken with the velocity of a breathless child; “Tempo Mortale,” on the other hand, asks the reader to move at the speed of death — almost standing still.

Connotations to music run throughout the book, alluding to rock and roll, folk, classical, even lullabies.

“Poetry is a small indirect mode of expression that is like music and not like music,” Walters said. “It’s a minimalist art, but there are tunes that are trying to get out.”

Upon request Walters read a few of the poems to the students. “I hear each poem as being spoken aloud to someone,” he explained. “My friends, my family, my brother.” And, yet he continued, the hope is that the medium of poetry “a condensed, skeletal, deeply potent form of communication allows for other people to draw something through the poem.”

One theme found throughout Walters poems in “Field Guide A Tempo” is the idea of “games.” The opening line of “Presto” reads: “Let’s play for real this time, I mean it, no matter what…” Another poem is titled: “Capture the Flag.” And in still another — “Old Motion Picture” — the final line reads: “Marco Polo, or Where am I now?”

“I was interested in the idea that games only have meaning within the boundary of the rules we set up and we are always setting up these boundaries. It’s fantastic that we can set up these little worlds (or games) and make tiny microcosms within the world.”

Each detail in “Field Guide A Tempo” is finely crafted. From the word choice to the images that divide the movements — woodblock prints Walters carved.

When a student asked Walters where he finds inspiration, Walters smiled.

“I can’t go looking for inspiration. Inspiration comes from the side. I go through life with one purpose in life, but things end up being important to me and end up hitting me from different angles. I find the moments when things transform from what you thought they were moments that inspire me.”

Walters will speak at the Peterborough Town Library on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and at the Dublin School on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. Both events are open to all comers.


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