Someone once wrote that true poetry is writing a truth in fewer words than it takes to say it, while imbuing it with universal significance. But what if the message is, don’t listen to other people’s truths? From the first word of the title Walton challenges the reader to examine what they want, and whether they actually want it.
This collection contains 17 poems of various lengths, written in Walton’s confident post-beat, spoken-words-pinned-to-the-page style. As with his previous work it is filled with syntax pretzelled in service of beauty and truth. Each reading might reveal new words the reader never knew they lacked but will use henceforth; today my favourite is “electasy”.
At the heart of this collection is the question whether our goals are real: do we want them because we are told what to want? If this were a political tract it might call for youth to reject the materialism of their parent’s generation. However, that would also be following someone else’s instructions. In Letters to a Young Activist/Who Does St. Anthony Turn To When He’s Lost Something? the reader is shown that rebellion is sold as a product, that if everyone is a non-conformist then everyone is conforming.
This exposure of the perils of rebellion for rebellions sake goes further in poems such as Hobocamp (from which the collection’s title is taken), which shows that simple rejection of society ends up under a bridge, the temporary occupier of a many-hand sleeping bag.
Conformity is shown in a similarly harsh light: 18, Now Cops Can Arrest Me reminds the reader that self-worth takes more than just passing an arbitrary social marker, while Where I Found God (Junkyard-Ghostie) shows us a God who put our prayers on vibrate, a God who does not answer because we ask for too much too often.
I’d rather be violently beaten after reading a poem than
– Bums & Harlots
Between and around the stark images of the emptiness of a life measured against any values but our own are equally stark but beautiful images of the world on personal success: within Love Poems critique of media-perfect eternal love is the happiness love brings in the eternal now; Do I Need To Remind You That You Are Free? takes the reader above the issue of conflict, opening a world where physics is the only limit we cannot ignore if we choose.
This collection does not give answers, it raises possibilities. In the end the reader is left to decide whether they will be better measuring themselves against society’s goals or striving to be the best version of themselves they can be, however mundane that version might seem to others. The only hint of an answer is in the idea of effort; as with Zen enlightenment we must work hard at true goals both before and after we achieve them.
After experiencing these poems I wondered if society’s issues might, at least in part, be due to careless use of definite articles: would so many be as sold on the appearance of wealth and success if Fitzgerald had made one more tweak to the title, if it were A Great Gatsby? Would people still choose to struggle for more over embracing happiness if it were An American Dream?
As with Walton’s other work I enjoyed it immensely. I suggest this collection to anyone who wants thoughts provoked and language played.
I received a free advance copy of this collection.