The Buoyancy of It All – Robert Walker (Lethe Press)

Buy it now direct from Lethe Press or from our store – The Buoyancy of It All

Poetry is so immediate and confessional that the best of it
sounds like an intimate conversation with your best friend. Even if you don’t
know the poet personally, by the time you finish a slim volume of his, you
sometimes feel as if you know him better than you know yourself. Such is the
case with Robert Walker’s debut collection, The Buoyancy of It All.

Walker’s gay-basher, straight-acting, molested, bullied,
boogeyman-nightmared past comes rushing at you in a short 80 pages. But as
serious as that sounds, his wry, knowing voice sugars it enough to make it not
only palatable, but downright addictive. His pop culture references range from
90’s teen heartthrobs to The Wizard of Oz, but they’re never too obscure
or far out. His sense of humor is evident in many of the titles: “Sacred Cows
Make Fine Cheeseburgers,” “Mrs. Potatohead’s Uterus,” “5 Viable Routes of
Explaining Your Role in a Pornographic Film” and “Question # 26 On The Red
Cross Donation Questionnaire” are some of my favorites. But the work that
follows the cute titles is intricate and the kind of funny that makes you
wonder why you laughed in the first place.

Several poems in this collection have multiple parts, each
branching off the other to tell a story too large for one to contain. My
favorite is the “Nightmare” series, especially “Nightmare: The One In Which I
Tell Her I Love Her & She Believes Me.” This nine-part poem tells the story
of a young gay man trying to pass for straight, a beautifully conflicted word
salad that, at times, reads more like prose than poetry:

naked. You’re pulling the covers off. You’re saying
try it, you

            might like
it. I’m cold. I want to stop; to wake up. It tastes plastic like

Barbie parts. I think this is what aliens must taste like. I think if

            I wrap
my lips tight enough, if I suck until we’re both chapped, I can

            turn you
inside out—I could find a mouthful of something familiar. But

cunt is stubborn. It stays moist and concave. I am convexed by the


Walker’s wordplay leaves me breathless and jealous, as does
his honesty and directness in such frank poems as the powerful “The Rapee
Remembers,” the self-loathing of “A Joke I Used to Tell” and the painful regret
of “My History of Violence.” Yet nothing can quite prepare you for “The
Boogeyman and I Seek Couple’s Counseling (A Poem in One Act).” This brief
play/poem—one, again, of a series dealing with the boogeyman—embodies Walker’s
work. It’s simultaneously funny, scary and heartbreaking, cutting close to some
essential relationship truths. Brilliant stuff.

I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Walker and listening to
him read at this years Saints and Sinners gathering, and his delivery is as
impeccable as his words. It’s a shame you can’t hear his performance, but this
is a wonderful collection full of heart and nerve.

The Buoyancy of It All will take you away indeed. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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