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Generous Voice BY JAMES HOGGARD ALL THAT MATTERS The Texas Plains in Photographs and Poems: New and Selected Poems. By Walter McDonald Photographs selected by Janet M. Neugebauer. 143 pp. New York: Texas Tech University Press. $22.50. AH ER 12 COLLECTIONS of poems and numerous awards, it made sense to publish a summary gathering of Walter McDonald’s work to commemorate the current achievement of an unusually productive career. With this new volume we can see with some vividness the extent and limits of McDonald’s range of subject matter and technique. Although ‘he. has faithfully devoted the major body of his work to his native region of West Texas and to war experiences he was a part of in Vietnam, McDonald’s work, in retrospect, moves within the loops and turns of autobiography and out into adopted personas that convey his major themes: an embracement of place, an affirmation of the power in families, and the textures of things. From the beginning of his career, he has traced out threats and promises in the geography of an interesting spirit. Periodically his work has given echoes of the sacred, though there are few strongly ritualistic points of connection named in his poetry. Even that apparent paradox, however, makes sense when one considers the low-church Protestantism that is dominant in the Lubbock area, where he flourishes. Graven or not, images form the heart of McDonald’s poetic vignettes. The sense of line in the poems in this collection is especially good. Sometimes, in his shorter-lined verse, the effects are even exquisite, as in the finely allusive “Out Of The Whirlwind”: … We believe given time we could reap the moon and in the representatively craggy rhythms of “Settling The Plains,” he evokes the heartiness of tough-spirited people: James Hoggard is a poet, literary critic and professor of literature at Midwestern State University at Wichita Falls. They lived on daily bread and called on God to bless them all for doubting. McDonald’s prosody is not sophisticated, but it does have its integrity and, in its better moments, a sense of grace. Like a number of contemporary American poets, he blends free verse with strophes masked as stanzas, so his regularity of form is essentially based on visual rather than metrical effects. Even so, the poems gathered here have a consistently effective sense of closure. Two poems in particular in All That Matters show perhaps his finest gift, one in fact that separates him from the spiritual timidity that dulls the work of many of his contemporaries. In the rightly titled “Rock Softly In My Arms” and the unfortunately bookishly titled “A Woman Acquainted With The Night,” he reveals the genuine delight he often takes in the other. The subjects here are lasting love, but the delight in praising the other that characterizes them shows up in numerous poems dealing with many subjects. “Rock Softly” is altogether McDonald’s own, but the seasoned spirit of thorough intimacy calls to mind the delights in Robert Burns’ well-known poem about aging lovers, “John Anderson, My Jo”: Come, clasp my stiff knuckles at the fireplace, bifocals off for an hour. Rock softly in my arms and hold me, girl, this night won’t last for long. Whether dealing with thunderstorms, tornados, northers, water moccasins or rattlesnakes, or the farmer’s bane, hardpan or other metaphorical and literal points of reference McDonald’s voice reflects the antihysterical bias that has often characterized the stronger moments of the Southwestern sensibility. In “After Eden,” for example, the speaker, who is rounding up cattle for slaughter, begins by saying “I like snakes my own way, underfoot, / not overhead in branches draped like vines.” There seems to be a droll gesture of compensatory wit there when one recognizes the aridity of the prairie where he’s working. Snakes in trees are a much more likely threat in bayare on the plains. With a briskness of image and tone that marks so much of his work, McDonald has his speaker refer to himself as a “death angel” as he drives a bull with yells and a rope uphill to the pasture where the loading corral is waiting and a truck backed tight against the ramp. Because it’s handled as a quickly passing notion even as a ghost of a gesture toward the mythic the conceit does not become intrusive. The keener point of impact rightly occurs at the descriptive point of closure that captures the roughness in the rhythm of the situation. Seen as a fact of nature rather than lamentable aberration, the music of violence vibrates throughout the collection in several directions, as seen in the sharply suggestive ending of “Fiddles And Steel Guitars”: … Not all things care for heartbreak, not one sullen hog runs grunting through the mud. In time, all music stops, but now the farm’s alive with fiddles and bitter-sweet guitars, the twang of someone sobbing sad goodbyes and a mad bull backing off and pawing, about to tear down the barn. The archival photographs from the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech are thematically appropriate as visual equivalents for the poems. Most are presented apart from their texts, though some, necessarily pale, serve as ghostly backdrops to texts. Conceptions like that are theoretically promising but in execution are often distracting, as if the two idioms are compromising rather than complementing each other. The book’s design, however, was executed with carefulness of attention to the themes and tones of, the texts. The volume itself evokes the sensitive measures of McDonald’s generous voice. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 I. 453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17 1.1 1′ 1 ~,- ,