Rebirth of Reason


Impossible? A 'Village Poet' on the Right?
by Walter Donway


Allen Ginsberg and “Howl”? Gregory Corso and New York's first openly lesbian bar? Jack Kerouac at a “happening”? William Burroughs and Naked Lunch?

No, it's a book of poetry with a title taken from John Galt's speech in Ayn Rand's best-selling and still controversial novel Atlas Shrugged. Touched By Its Rays, by Walter Donway, a long-time resident of Bedford Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village, seeks to revive “enduring traditions and popular values” of poetry such as meter, rhyme, storytelling, and drama. In other words: no “free verse,” no flights of fancy inspired by the latest pharmaceutical aid to creativity. Not even a genuflection to the counter-culture or a nostalgia tour of the 1960s anti-war movement.

Not that Donway is apolitical. His poem “Above Tienanmen Square,” evoking the famous poster of a long protestor facing a row of tanks, ends with the stanza:

Seeing but thin shoulders, askew
With his incongruous bundles,
Who can tell us if he knew
That great deeds irritate our age,
Which inters them in pearls of glory
To spare us inconvenient rage.

There is even a poem for the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth entitled: “Ayn Rand: A Centennial.” A sample stanza:

The altar of our age is politics:
For heaven, power; for sanctity, the plan
To end all plans; and prayerful edicts
To fashion forth the perfect good of man.
How could they bear to hear your lonely voice
Summoning us before that honest bar
Where each alone with reason makes his choice
And pays the price to things as they are?

The book is being publish this month by the Atlas Society, a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC. With an initial printrun of 1,500 copies in hardcover, the book offers more than 40 poems, including two dramatic monologues that tell stories and a verse play, “Naked.” The Society reports that pre-publication sales of the book now top 350, a respectable beginning for a book of poetry.

On the book's Web site, www.touchedbyitsrays.com, Donway argues that free verse, favored by most contemporary poets, represents abandonment of the very characteristic that defines verse and distinguishes it from prose. He also argues that such characteristics of contemporary poetry as free verse, lack of rhyme, and “deliberate difficulty” have reduced the popular audience for poetry. Most of the poems Touched By Its Rays are in traditional forms, such as the sonnet, dramatic monlogue, and ballad.

All revenue from sales of the book is contributed to the Atlas Society, a nonprofit organization.

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