Oklahoma Cantos  
   
Reviews and Remarks - Part Three
" I'd rather be a lover than a fighter of wars, rather be from
Oklahoma than the nebulous stars."
                                     
Hoyt Axton
Ron Wallace places not a jar, but a baseball field in the middle of Oklahoma, where
it becomes "the one constant" amid the shifting seasons, wild horses, and unpredictable
sky. Wallace's poetry is vernacular, to be sure, but it keeps company with Dickey, Jeffers,
Komunyakaa and Howard Starks whose influences inflect the poet's voice with gruff yet
lyrical honesty and a clarity seldom seen in contemporary poetry.

                                                                Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
                                                               2010 Western Heritage Award winner and
                                                               2010 Oklahoma Book Award winner
The landscapes in Ron Wallace's Oklahoma Cantos are wide as the prairie, deep as
memory, sharp as flint. We travel with him around the bend to find wheat pennies, ball
fields, an ass-bustin' bronc, starry nights and names from his beloved Oklahoma and
beyond. These lyrical poems, like the stones in a good man's pockets, sing, "Yes, this is
how it was!"

                                                               Sandra Soli,
                                                               poet and editor
                                                              2008 Oklahoma Book Award winner
I have come to think of Ron Wallace's life and work as a perfect expression of this
prairie homeland we share and love. Our landscape is unpretentious, and not all can
see its subtle beauty. Even fewer can make this land sing. Ron Wallace does just that
with his words of unpretentious elegance. From beginning to end, this volume gives us  
poems as crystal clear as a rain-washed Oklahoma morning. I read
Oklahoma Cantos
with joy, and whenever I want to feel my homeland move in my heart, I'll read this
work again.
                                                               Carol Hamilton
                                                               Oklahoma Poet Laureate 1995-1997
                                                               1992 Oklahoma Book Award winner
Reviews and Praise for:
Ron Wallace's newest work...
Oklahoma Cantos
In Oklahoma Cantos Ron Wallace has made poetry of Oklahoma: its landscapes, its
climates, its clouds in various seasons, and most importantly, its citizens. This is not
the Oklahoma of show-business legend, but something much closer to the truth of the
land and the experience of its people --- wise, gritty, down to earth and beautiful. These
are fine poems from the heart of a true poet.

                                                            Carl Sennhenn
                                                             Oklahoma Poet Laureate 2001-2003
                                                             2007 Oklahoma Book Award winner
Over the years a really talented writer develops his own persona on the printed page.
I believe I and many others would recognize Ron Wallace's poetry no matter where we
read, even without his name on it. With this new volume of poems, he reinforces his
unique persona as "the poet from Oklahoma". I believe younger poets will use Ron's
work as a standard for which they will strive, and we will hear comments like, "This
reminds me of Ron Wallace's stuff." But no one is ever going to match his ability to
evoke a verbal landscape that is pure Oklahoma that reaches the souls of its people. I
have been touched time and time again, and this new work only continues to build his
status as a poet. I consider him one of the most talented new voices in American poetry.

                                                          Ken Nye
                                                          Maine Poet Laureate Nominee
                                                          Author and Educator
Welcome to the eternal present, as glimpsed through the poetry of prairie imagist
Ron Wallace. Uncut stalks of Johnson grass beckon, sorrel horses nicker. Rooftops
collapse in the rippling waves of heat. Blackjack oaks sprout through the ghosts of
V-8 engine blocks, and spike-antlered bucks walk the fence lines. Everything burns
in the July heat, yet there is a kind of solace which emerges - Wallace's clear sighted
recognition transforms harsh ground into a canvas of rough glory. The series of cantos,
central feature to this wide-ranging collection, leap achingly off the page, defiant
prairie cousins to Mr. William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow world.
"Oklahoma Cantos" is a compelling migration of images, one part pilgrim, two parts
mirage, 100% memorable reading.

                                                      George Wallace
                                                      Writer in Residence Walt Whitman Birthplace
                                                      Publisher/Editor "Poetry Bay" and Long Island Review

Start throwing a word like cantos around and you raise some big expectations. The term immediately brings to
mind not only Ezra Pound’s ponderous modernist project but also Dante’s great medieval allegorical epic. Ron
Wallace’s Oklahoma Cantos seems aware of these expectations, beginning with a series of commendatory
comments by a number of Okie literary luminaries and an introduction by the great Billie Letts. Wallace even
includes his own preface to the work, ala Wordsworth’s preface to the Lyrical Ballads, in which he, like
Wordsworth, declares a desire to make poetry from the voice of the “common man.” All this would be a bit
much were it not for Wallace’s constant humility, which balances all the fanfare with a healthy dose of
common sense and plain-spoken wisdom. The result is a book that is ambitious enough to generate poetry that
matters but humble enough to generate poetry one actually enjoys reading. This is a delicate balance, but, like
Johnny Cash, Wallace is able to walk the line.
While the title poem would seem to pay tribute to Pound, it really owes much more to William Carlos
Williams, or, if Pound, the Pound of “A Station of the Metro” rather than of the Cantos. Wallace’s
“Oklahoma Cantos” is a poem of thirty-two (had he added one more he could have reached Dante’s favorite
number) quatrains, each focusing on a precise image from the Oklahoma landscape. Many of the quatrains are
quite lovely taken even in isolation, such as number sixteen:

           A winding creek bends under remnants
           of barbed wire sagging across a shallow gulley,
           where fireflies appear in flashes, disappear,
           and reappear in tangled vines above the ravine.

This is vivid and recognizable. But the poem’s effect is symphonic rather than cumulative: the quatrains work
together to build one larger image of Oklahoma as Wallace sees it, and it’s the whole picture that is really
compelling. This is an innovative and interesting approach, one that requires a painterly patience from the
poet and that rewards the time of the reader.
As interesting as the title poem is, the, mostly narrative, poems which follow it are, in my opinion, the heart of
the book. These poems deliver on Wallace’s promise in his preface to depict the world of real Oklahomans.
These poems draw on daily life: the cutting of hay, the changeable weather, baseball. This last topic, in fact,
dominates much of the collection, with poems about playing catch with his father and with his son, about
Mickey Mantle, about buying a glove, about little league. Although baseball is not a new topic in American
poetry, Wallace manages to avoid cliché, mainly by focusing more on the place of the game in his own life
than on the obvious and familiar trappings of the sport. The poems, in other words, aren’t just about baseball;
they are about Ron Wallace’s baseball.
In fact, Oklahoma Cantos is a very personal book throughout, although not what one would call
“confessional” (unless you count open affection for the NY Yankees as confessional), and its most personal
aspect is its treatment of the poet’s struggle against passing time. The inevitable loss that comes with time is a
major theme throughout the book. The opening poem subtly establishes this theme by enacting the struggle
against time in the poet’s imagistic attempt to isolate and preserve brief moments. The theme becomes more
overt in poems like “Main Street 1964” which dramatizes the noble but inevitably unsuccessful effort to
conquer time through the force of imagination. A similar drama unfold in “Crown and Seven,” as the poet
attempts to summon a musical voice from the past but ends up with only “the cold iron wind of February
singing through the trees.” In “Moonlight Graham Steps off the Field,” the poet is confronted with “forty
years fractured / like a dropped tea glass on a cement porch.” This line both evokes the past in its image of
rural Oklahoma summer time and simultaneously mourns its loss. Wallace frequently strikes this elegiac tone,
doing what elegy always does: temporary resurrection. Another fine instance of this tone is “In My Father’s
Books,” in which the lost father is returned to life by means of marginalia. In a more forceful vein, the short
poem “Grey” seems to evoke the tradition of time the devourer in a link between the blank grey sky, the grey
hair of the poet, and the grey fur of his cat, who is stalking for the kill a bird as blue as the poem’s always
already lost sky. The sum effect of these poems is the keen awareness of how, as he puts it in “One Day you
Ride,” “half your life passes like an errant rifle shot.”
The poem I consider to be the book’s finest is also concerned with time, but in a way more subtle and complex
than any other poem in the collection. “Learning to Speak Choctaw,” is simultaneously another elegy for his
father, a lament for his lost youth, a tribute to “the greatest generation,” and an reminder of the great past and
troubled present of a proud people. Like most of the poems after the title piece, “Learning to Speak Choctaw”
is a narrative poem, telling of his policeman father’s relationship with a Choctaw veteran and alcoholic living
near Wallace’s boyhood home. It is a profoundly moving poem, ending with the father’s sad and stoic advice to
his young son to “just keep thowin’ the ball.”
Wallace may mean the title, Oklahoma Cantos, as a reference only to the book’s first poem, but, in the
etymological sense, all the poems in this book are Oklahoma cantos, or songs of Oklahoma. In the preface and
in poem after poem, Wallace unabashedly embraces a regional approach and poetic identity. Paradoxically, it
is that willingness to write in a particular place, struggling against a particular time, that gives the poems
their universal appeal. Books like Oklahoma Cantos remind us of what it feels like to be from somewhere,
whatever particular place we may be from. This is an accomplishment of which to be proud.


Friday, June 3, 2011Review of Ron Wallace's Oklahoma Cantos
Ron Wallace, Oklahoma Cantos (TJMF Publishing, 2011).

                                                        Benjamin Myers
                                                        Oklahoma Baptist University
                                                        Winner 2011 Oklahoma Book Award