Before Cody Walker left Seattle to teach English in Ann Arbor, he was frequently described as a quintessential Seattle poet. Go to any open-mic night and you’ll likely find some poet who doesn’t even realize he’s aping Walker’s shtick—an endearing blend of earnest and funny, formally inventive and respectful of tradition. For a time, Walker was a ringleader of the poetry scene, a funny and fun poet always willing to share the spotlight with up-and-coming Seattle writers. But even poets have to eat, and this city isn’t exactly throbbing with opportunity for those who want to teach poetry.
Walker doesn’t live here anymore, but Seattle is still on his mind. In 2013 he co-edited the anthology Alive at the Center: Contemporary Poems of the Pacific Northwest, and his newly published second collection of poems, The Self-Styled No-Child, is packed with the kind of poems that won him adoring crowds at Hugo House and other local venues on a regular basis.
No-Child will be familiar to anyone who knows Walker’s work. Where he was once obsessed with Sarah Palin, he now can’t get Mitt Romney out of his head, as proven by a collection of poems titled “The Romnibus.” (One ends: “No temple garments are shed. Note/Though, the hard stares, the terrible yearning.”) He continually layers his poems with ridiculous scenarios that somehow make a deadly kind of sense: P.G. Wodehouse reads Maus from beyond the grave and doesn’t understand the comic’s allegorical aspect; God plays Rock-’Em, Sock-’Em Robots with humans; a gun-wielding octopus sets up a “well-armed” pun visible from miles away.
Comedy and sincerity live side-by-side in Walker’s poems, and no poem in No-Child is so perfect an example as “A Skeleton Walks Into a Bar,” named after one of the hoariest jokes of all time (“A skeleton walks into a bar, says ‘gimme a beer and a mop’ ”) that expands into a meditation on death. And then at the end, Walker throws his hands up in the air and surrenders:
“and—fuck it, it’s just a joke.
now that we’re both awake.”
Is there a trick more noble in all of poetry than the desperate last-stanza turn from impending death to booty call? If it was good enough for Keats, it’s good enough for Walker.
Next Monday Walker will read at Elliott Bay Book Company to celebrate the release of No-Child. In typical Walker fashion, he’s sharing the spotlight with Seattle-area poets, including Rebecca Hoogs, Rachel Kessler, Julie Larios, Sierra Nelson, and Jason Whitmarsh. It’s a quintessentially 2000s-era-Seattle lineup (only Ed Skoog, who moved to Portland not so long ago, is missing). Sure, it’s a different city now. And sure, the face of Seattle poetry is changing—many would argue for the better. But listen: Just because Cody Walker left Seattle doesn’t mean Seattle left Cody Walker. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., 624-6600, elliottbaybook.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m. Mon., Aug. 15. Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.