Book Cover: Walking Backward

Walking Backward

Poems by Paul Lake

Story Line Press
$12.95. 80 pages
ISBN 1-885266-72-3

The intense lyrics and harrowing narratives of Walking Backward explore the web of values and obligations that bind people into neighborhoods and nations. In the title poem, a conscience-stricken, middle-aged draft-dodger reflects on the Vietnam era. At the book’s center is “Seeing the Elephant,” a long narrative by a survivor of the Donner party tragedy. Fusing fact, dream, and fantasy, the poem gives a hallucinatory shimmer to the recollections of Elizabeth Reed Murphy, the story’s protagonist. As the poem traces the tangled story of her life from innocent girlhood to wise old age, its shifting movements explore how memory fashions meaning from experience.

 “The moral texture of life is [Lake’s] ground theme, and, fitting common speech to meters with the apparent ease of a Robert Frost, he reflects on it so engagingly that he is probably writing permanent American literature.” —Ray Olson, Booklist

 “Paul Lake’s lucid, disquieting narratives are admirable in their playing of the talking voice against one measure or another.…There are also some outstanding shorter poems here—‘Pieces,’ for example, or the unassuming and flawless one called ‘A Grain of Salt.’ Part of the considerable distinction of Walking Backward is its unifying Conradian search for the dimensions of human nature, and for the border at which inhumanity and disgrace may be said to begin.” —Richard Wilbur

 “In limpid language, Paul Lake’s poems, from dramatic monologues to philosophical meditations, consider a wide range of human experience with wisdom, urbanity, and compassion. I’m struck by both this range and by Lake’s deceptive transparency: the poems are always clear on first reading yet also always yield more on successive readings—two rare accomplishments indeed.” —Rachel Hadas

 “Paul Lake’s new book Walking Backward is a clear advance on his excellent first collection Another Kind of Travel. Although the title might suggest otherwise, he looks squarely at good and evil in these poems. In formal lyrics and dramatic monologues as fine as any being written today, Lake captures the tragedy and farce of human motive and action.” —Mark Jarman

 Paul Lake's first poetry collection, Another Kind of Travel, received the Porter Fund Award for Literary Excellence. His essays on poetry have appeared widely in journals and anthologies. His novel Among the Immortals (Story Line), a satirical thriller about poets and vampires, was picked as one of the best first novels by The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Lake is currently a professor of English and Creative Writing at Arkansas Tech University and lives in Russellville with his wife, artist Tina Lake, and their two children.