Thursday, July 3, 2008


This is the Introduction written by Dr Alec Lucas (Doctorate of English Literature) who was Head of the English Department at McGill University, Montreal at the time. He wrote the following in 1969 pertaining to the poetry in my first book of poetry (Walking On the Greenhouse Roof, Delta Press, Montreal, 1969).


I sat reading the Cobourg Sentinel-Star one afternoon during a visit to my parents in Bomanville some three years ago. My mother said, "Be sure not to miss Wally Keeler's poem. He's the young grandson of a former neighbour, you know." I looked it up, expecting I don't know what precisely, perhaps something like the old high school poetry,

. . . I hear the moaning autumn wind
. . . Across the lonely meadows sere;
. . . It hints that, too, I'll wake to find
. . . That love's, like summer, gone, I fear;

or something of social protest akin to

. . . "I'll reap the harvest
. . . Of all Viet nam
. . . Of rice (and every living man),"
. . . Cried death,
. . . The voice of Uncle Sam;

or again, some cryptic verse like,

. . . Red eggs
. . . . . . . crow petals
. . . of
. . . . . passionate promise in the psychedelic dawn.
. . . The astronauted moon is shattered,
. . . Smashed windowpaned onion.

So much for conjecture! Instead, I came across a lyric poem that took me completely by surprise. Rightly or wrongly (I know now wrongly), and without considering the matter carefully, I had also assumed there could hardly be any new nature images in poetry, that the Romantics and Neo-Romantics had mined out the vein. But here in a poem by a boy of sixteen were images as fresh as spring leaves -- new, vital, and promising of his future work -- creating a world where the forests become "Emerald blankets curving on the hills," beyond the lake, where "Suntanned pebbles crush beneath me," and an inflowing stream "tumbles upon itself, / shifting its silt in shallow shoves." Despite the fact that the poem was frequently clumsy, it did reveal, also, the writer knew how poetry works.

Without pressing the analogy of the cause, I admit that I was as excited as when I first read The Return of the Native and The Mill on the Floss. The latter book had so stirred me in fact that I had simply to talk to someone about it, and I remember phoning an "unfortunate" friend at three in the morning to share my pleasure with him. Although I believed that I saw genuine and extraordinary talent in this young boy's work, I reacted differently, however, from my earlier experience. This time I phoned no one. I immediately drove the thirty miles to Cobourg in hopes that I might find this young writer, and went at once to the library. "Yes," the librarian said, "We certainly do know Wally Keeler. He's read almost every book we've got." This sounded encouraging. Although I could scarcely believe that "Why Not I?" was the work of a one-effort poet, I felt reassured now that it was not, and, getting directions, set out for the boy's home.

Further inquiry of a pedestrian gave me to believe I was indeed on the right road if I were looking for a young man who was a "bit crackers. He writes poetry, you know." I admitted that this must certainly be he, and knocking at the house door, found myself face to face with a lad who had long hair and bare feet and certainly did write poetry. Half-expecting that he would produce a handful of lucubrations with explanations of his failure to write more, I asked whether he had other poems. "Yes," he replied, "I have some others." and herewith placed in my hands a great sheaf of manuscript of literally hundreds of poems that I was eventually to carry off to read and later to discuss with Louis Dudek and that was to become the seedbed from which Walking On The Greenhouse Roof was to grow.

Since that time Keeler has continued to write and to improve. He has gained and is gaining greater control of his imagery and syntax. Yet he is a poet of achievement as well as of promise.

He writes with gusto and sincerity. His poems are characterized by an intensity that may owe something to the neo-romanticism of the age, but that owe most, directly to Keeler's own experiences in life. Gusto and intensity do not of course make art, but when they are combined, as in his poetry, with an unusual gift for creating images the results are striking.

Even if the form breaks, the impression that the passionate involvement of the poet is at fault and not an inability to polish his lines. It is a "fortunate flaw" that manifests the strength of the poet's imagination, chafing as it does at the restraints placed upon it by the needs of form. Keeler's is no tame talent to be shackled without a struggle.

By and large I suppose, Keeler could be called a love poet (although his work covers a wide range of topics) and an impassioned love poet. On the one hand, however, he manages to present love as a part of the ideal without making it namby-pamby or essentially abstract as something to be analyzed into motives and reactions. On the other hand, he succeeds in catching its sensuousness without indulging his poetry in the merely sensual. He sublimates his ardour without dissipating it in naturalistic or psychological detail or in the vague never-never-land of romanticism. Neither pornographic nor precious, his poems present human desires as nonetheless divine for being human.

In addition to the authenticity, the originality of the imagery, and the frequently moving emotional and spiritual quality of Keeler's poetry, It has something, also, of the comic that gives it a modern touch. Occasionally it reveals itself as satire, sometimes as high-spirited and bawdy-like humour unable to resist the temptation to have fun at the expense of high seriousness when he writes, "and I roared / defeat in a blizzard / of bedsheets," and at other times in puckish comment like "content as a cow's udder." Keeler thus adds a refreshing dimension to his poetry.

His humour is neither flippant nor inconsequential. It is part of his whole attitude toward life. It is generally good-natured and lets us know that he recognizes himself for what he is – a young man alive to living, celebrating his experiences -- and nothing more. He thus avoids the lugubrious and self-contemplatory that can become tiresome in lyric verse and concomitantly keeps his work free from pretentiousness and didacticism.

Perceptive and sensitive as a human being, Keeler is still fully conscious of the exacting demands placed by the formalistic on the artist, of the need for pattern in structure and rhythm in movement, of imaginative insight harmonized by tone and vision through image as substantive and symbolic detail. Yet, for all that, in writing of Walking On The Greenhouse Roof, I have to fight a tendency to slip into paying tribute to "untutored genius" and "native wood notes wild," for it is the poet's naivete that seems to give his work much of its distinction. I use the word in no pejorative sense, but simply to indicate one of the over-riding qualities of the verse.

If Keeler writes of nature, he writes of it as it seems primarily to have come to him, and not through the seive of other nature poets. If he writes of love, he writes of it as a lover and in terms of all its lights and weathers as he has experienced them and not as a case history of a stage in the process of maturing. If he writes of man and society, he writes from the challenging perspective of a hippie, straight-forwardly with a disarming and yet provocative idealism.

There is nothing here, either, of the pellet-like trait often apparent in volumes of slim verse squeezed out year by year. There is nothing here of a fear of words and of unduly cautious polishing. There is little here, too, of the characteristics that mark occasional verse frequently, written as it seems to reflect some isolated thought or event.

Keeler's poetry contains a vision, a youthful vision but valid and significant nevertheless, which he catches in fresh diction, original images, and an authentic tone, and which reaffirms the "eternal verities" as the subject of poetry and presents them in a telling way in modern fashion.

Dr Alec Lucas
McGill University
March 17, 1969

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