cover image Walking Light: Essays and Memoirs

Walking Light: Essays and Memoirs

Stephen Dunn. W. W. Norton & Company, $20.95 (187pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03488-2

Poet Dunn ( Full of Lust and Good Usage ) links these essays to his practice as a teacher of creative writing workshops; a student once suggested that he write down his insights from class. Perhaps as a result, these pieces seem addressed mostly to fellow poets, imaginatively combining advice, observations and correlations drawn between poetry and such very different things as gambling and basketball. Dunn's prose is amiably conversational (``Here are some poems that lately I've been reading out loud to others''), rather than critical or theoretical, and it is responsive to impulse. While some of his readings of poems are uneven, essays such as ``The Good, The Not So Good'' and ``Some Reflections on the Abstract and the Wise'' find the crucial turns where poems either take flight or fail. His advice to poets includes taking risks (``The act of taking a chance is energizing''), honing craft and avoiding undue obscurity. Because the essays are episodic and casual, it is not at first apparent how contradictory Dunn's various principles are: poets ``must care and not care'' about their audience, address readers in a ``fragmented'' culture in which ``we no longer have a belief system in common,'' yet also follow their own ``best sense of what a poem can be.'' (May)