I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book of poetry Reconstruction from Finishing Line Press. It is also available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. This is my fourth book of poetry. The poet and novelist Jaime Manrique writes:
"Walter Holland’s Reconstruction is an autobiographical depiction of the years when the poet and his family lived in Virginia, a society where Black people had to endure the dehumanizing legacy of Jim Crow. Nowadays, there are those who refer to the 1950s as the time when “America was great. ” Yes, great for white people, but unfair to the descendants of the enslaved, to all other people of color, and to those who were different—“the Others.”
Holland achieves a miracle in Reconstruction: his quaint, beautiful poems, filled with a yearning lyricism, capture, without anger, the lovely appearances of that world, where good manners required, among other things, to be complicit in the violent treatment of those who were considered inferiors.
These are affecting and surprising poems; Holland’s musicality lures us into entering a realm of gentility, of appearances, under which great crimes were being committed. Reconstruction makes me question my present life: to what injustices am I being complicit— just to hold on to my comfortable existence?"
–Jaime Manrique, author of My Night with Federico García Lorca
From the Press Release for the book on FLP:
This is a book of poetry for our American present. It speaks to the present conflicts over race and privilege. It is a work of complicated poetic reconciliation. Weaving both vivid lyric language into short narrative poems, Holland reconstructs a flawed yet nostalgic past. Uprooted northerners, Holland, his sisters, and his parents sought the bucolic charm and unfettered economic opportunity of 1950s Virginia.
But boyhood brought with it a complex emotional and psychological complicity with the perverse cultural mores and institutionalized racism of the south. White, privileged, and sexually conflicted, Holland, who was drawn to the arts, negotiated a world of natural beauty and solitary retreat. His mother struggled with depression. His father, a doctor, kept true to the stoic virtues of fifties masculinity. Middle-class and affluent, Holland went to ballroom lessons, piano lessons, lived in a home attended to by a maid, and grew into a society, on the one hand as an outsider—northern born, Catholic, liberally inclined, studying modern dance and performing in community theater—and on the other felt obliged upon to take a date to her debutante party, attend the cotillions, hunt on one occasion, and obediently comply with the rules of segregation.
Holland’s poems weave the rural landscape of Virginia and its distinct country local with the burgeoning arrival of suburbanization and corporate industrialization in the late fifties. He gives a sense of the swift transition from the old south to the New South. He layers his poems on top of the brutal remains of the Civil War, the daily evidence of the Jim Crowe south, the rotting foundations of tobacco shacks, segregated neighborhoods, and aged downtown businesses. He describes the prosperity of the sixties, a race riot at his high school, the institutionalization of his mother for shock-treatments, and the travel-hungry father who circles the globe.
Above all these are poems that will evoke the beauty of a remembered past and its many illusory and problematic realities.
(For William Johnson)
I used to count them on the side of the road, brown, abandoned walls, black tar roofing over wood, sometimes collapsing or leaning to one side, others already tumbled encumbered by weeds. Most of all the shacks seemed markers of history to me, and the mystery of Virginia’s past: a life I never really saw, a century or more before. By my time the early encroachment of shopping malls, housing tracts, developments, had already begun. To me the shacks seemed bleak reminders of what I read as desertion and poverty, the crumbling of a dying way of life, not continued symbols of terror or misery or blood. Farm slaves cleared these fields way back, cut down the thick woods. Meadow flowers used to be everywhere; the land worked by a system of bondage. I used to visit a friend’s farm out in Amherst County, tucked away at the foot of the Piedmont hills. He and I hiked to a slave cemetery with its old markers, limestone with dates barely visible, the rain having dissolved them, the run-off of winters, wearing away the carvings of birth years or death years. And just beyond about a half-a-mile or more, one solitary brick chimney showed where the main house had stood. And I remember another day long ago, venturing with my sister, stepping through the weeds to take a closer look and see what was inside those shacks, dotting the roadsides to our lake house. We stood on the dirt floor and took in its emptiness, no trace of life anywhere, just the heat of the air from the fields and the stray sunlight of afternoon. The buzz of flies darting in and out of the shadows. And I think now of atrocities and human tragedies that still must contend with uneasy silence and how nostalgia can act as camouflage, a sad, sweet and wistful sheen that covers a horrific truth beneath.
Walter Holland, Ph.D. is the author of four books of poetry, a novel, a musical, short stories, essays, and numerous book reviews. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in many journals and anthologies both in the U.S. and abroad. He has taught American Poetry at Eugene Lang College as well as at The New School in N.Y.C. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Pursuing his training in modern dance and theater at a young age, he gradually changed course and became a Physical Therapist and Poet/Writer/Academic. He grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia and now is retired in New York City on the Upper West Side with his husband, Howard Frey.