80 pages, $14 cover price
($8 if ordered from the MSR Online Bookstore)
Release date: March 4, 2014.
When the World Was Rear-wheel Drive was a finalist for the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award
Timothy Walsh grew up in New Jersey, but has lived for the past thirty years in Madison, Wisconsin. His poems and short stories have appeared in The North American Review, Arts & Letters, Cutthroat, New Millennium Writings, and others. His awards include the Grand Prize in the Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition, the Kurt Vonnegut Fiction Prize from North American Review, and the Wisconsin Academy Fiction Prize. He is the author of a book of literary criticism, The Dark Matter of Words: Absence, Unknowing, and Emptiness in Literature (Southern Illinois University Press) and two previous poetry collections, Wild Apples (Parallel Press) and Blue Lace Colander (Marsh River Editions). Find more at: http://timothyawalsh.com/
Timothy Walsh’s wonderful third collection is a sometimes raucous, sometimes uproarious, always charmed and charming journey back to an America of simpler passions and pleasures. Revisiting the New Jersey of Walsh’s Catholic boyhood in the ’60s and ’70s, the poems embrace the sweetness of memory and the luxuriousness of loss, evoking a time long gone, but ever present in Walsh’s fertile imagination. By turns innocent and transgressive, celebratory and sorrowful, these accessible narratives of nostalgia recall the telephone booths, transistor radios, and fountain pens; the sandlot stickball games, stolen sacristy wine, and first sexual encounters; the Mustangs, Wildcats, Barracudas, and Chevelles; that hallow and haunt the collective memory. If you’d visit that bygone world of gas guzzlers, butterfly windows, and rear-wheel drive, Tim Walsh is the driver to take you there. In these lovely, big-hearted, and luminous poems he is firing on all eight cylinders.
In When the World was Rear-Wheel Drive, Timothy Walsh sets the tone when he tells us “Drive, drive, drive, we said and did,” taking us on a sometimes wild, sometimes poignant ride through the streets of adolescence and beyond. In these close-to-the-bone, and close-to-my-heart poems, Walsh reminds us to remember who and where we came from, and how we got to be who we are now. Each poem is its own succinct and complete story “lit by lightning/as in a photo flash.” Reading these poems, I felt like I was leafing through an old photo album and reminiscing with a friend. Walsh takes us back to when “the rooftop sweetgums danced and swayed/our neighbors scowled, and our parents prayed.” This is narrative poetry at its finest.
In these atmospheric, memory and language driven poems, Walsh explores the desire-riddled, nun-haunted, car-languaged, Catholic-ritualed world of his New Jersey adolescence. With numerous registers of language, he writes his family’s czarnina and sheehoged hybrid- immigrant past and his polyphonic youth where English was often the “foreign language.” With high-megawatt lists and rhythmic, perfectly-chosen details: butterfly windows, lapstrake hulls, squeegees, and flip-top Ampeg amps, Walsh writes his past’s “frail human outposts” that have the potential to buoy us all against the “encroaching dark.”
WHEN THE WORLD WAS REAR-WHEEL DRIVE
It was all a game of blouses, bras, and illicit beer.
Seventeen in New Jersey back in ’75
with Bruce singing about muscle cars and motorcycles,
fathers and factories.
This was back when everything was rear-wheel drive,
gasoline at fifty cents a gallon.
Bias-ply tires, not those European radials.
Butterfly windows, high-beam toe switches,
Hood scoops and racing stripes with rear ends jacked up
like cats in heat.
I remember cars with bench seats big as beds,
cars that were half like houses—
brash boats of cars with thirsty carburetors,
the drive train running the length of the car in a visible hump
feeding power to the rear wheels,
rear wheels that rocketed you onward,
a force from behind like the hand of God obedient
to the slightest pressure of your toe on the accelerator.
In the firefly twilight of the dashboard light,
you learned how to undo a bra clasp with one hand,
finagle troublesome zippers on tight jeans,
and then came the long, slow slide of silky underwear
down satin thighs,
the telescoping radio antenna drawing music from the sky
like a lightning rod.
Nowadays, compared to that innocent extravagance,
driving seems a paltry, decaffeinated thing,
inching along in our compact cars,
front wheels digging in like fingernails,
pulling us parsimoniously along as our hybrids
take hummingbird sips of gas.
Still, the revving of a motorcycle
or some old heap with a shot muffler
brings back those days when we cruised the night
each in our personal roaring apocalypse,
our polished chrome rebellion
rolling along so sweetly on mag wheels.
It’s difficult when you’re twenty,
riding on a motorcycle with a girl—
her legs wrapped around you—
it’s difficult for things not to lead somewhere—
the engine vibrations humming through the frame,
through your bones,
setting your spine humming, your pelvis,
the whirling wheels devouring the ribbon of road,
the throaty purr of the exhaust,
leaning into turns, gyroscopic G-forces gluing you
she tightening her arms around your waist,
a couple gallons of gas in a teardrop tank between your legs,
It’s difficult when you’re twenty
for a motorcycle not to be an aphrodisiac,
your hormone-riddled bodies humming and tingling
with the revving engine, the roar of the road,
the delicious acceleration,
the hairpin turns.
This is why sunglassed guys must have motorcycles,
why girls are drawn to them like honeybees
It’s difficult when you’re twenty.
MY FATHER’S CANOE
Cedar planked, it cut the waves,
sharp-bowed and feather light,
dodging tugs and ferries
across the Hudson to the Palisades.
You tell it regular as ritual—
how you’d lunch on sardines and bread
looking back at Manhattan,
then climb the cliffs
to taste danger
and stare down death.
Again and again you rehearse
how you sold it during the war
for a lousy fifty dollars.
Cedar canoes now knife through my dreams—
memories never my own, now made mine,
radiating outward like the paddle’s ripple.