Cody Walker, Shuffle and Breakdown

Finalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize 2005, 2006

96 pp, ISBN: 978-1-904130-31-4, £7.99 (paperback only),  
Publication, November 1st 2008

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A note about Shuffle and Breakdown

Cody Walker's Shuffle and Breakdown, his first collection and a finalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize in 2005 and 2006, is a work of comic brilliance and devastating irony. From "Abbott and Costello: The Alzheimer's Years" to a series of letters to Whitman from his imagined grandson, this is a wondrous strange book that operates with the precise timing of a great joke, while bracing itself for dissolution and worse.


A note on Cody Walker

Cody Walker was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1967. He holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, an M.F.A. from the University of Arkansas, and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He received the James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah in 2003 and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Washington in 2005. A longtime writer-in-residence in Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program, he was elected Seattle Poet Populist in 2007. His work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Parnassus, Slate, Subtropics, Light, Sewanee Theological Review, and elsewhere. In 2009 he’ll begin a term as the Amy Clampitt Resident Fellow in Lenox, Massachusetts.


Praise for Shuffle and Breakdown

You’ll need your wits about you when you read this astonishing book. Cody Walker keeps working surprises, setting traps, yanking rugs from underfoot – and I must say, I enjoyed myself no end. ‘Escalation, 2007,’ for instance, sounds as if written by a Mother Goose high on LSD. Walker is unique, no mere trickster but a serious craftsman who blurs the line of demarcation between sober poetry and light verse. Though he sometimes writes in forms usually frivolous – limericks, double dactyls, clerihews – he can do so with dark import. An amazing series of letters from a fictitious grandson of Walt Whitman is alone worth the price of admission.” – X. J. Kennedy

“In this case, the voice comes from some ways off, at an unexpected angle. Cody Walker’s poems are singular, and severally strong. Shuffle and Breakdown is more than an assemblage; it’s a collection with a subtending architecture, so that while one is savoring local pleasures – a brash simile, an odd and antic rhyme – one is aware of the book’s shapely whole. Like Roethke, who also had a Pacific Northwest background, Walker makes adroit use of fractured nursery rhyme. Like Whitman, with whom he shares a taste for the out-flung, Walker means to be comprehensive. But Shuffle and Breakdown is more than a toting up of its influences. Here’s a wry and rueful and utterly appealing new sensibility.” – Brad Leithauser


Reviews of Shuffle and Breakdown

Ann Arbor Online, November 2009

"Although I am an avid reader of contemporary poetry, I understand why many people, predisposed to the art because of their appreciation of the great poems of the past, have chosen to ignore its current practitioners. Unless you stay up with theoretical or conceptual models, some contemporary poetry can seem impenetrable, or at least doesn't appear to give enough compensation for the effort the reader must give it. Sometimes the language can seem completely flat, with none of the interesting sound patterns we expect from poems.

Sometimes, but not always: witness the delightful and provocative poetry of Cody Walker. Recently arrived in Ann Arbor from Seattle, where he was once elected Seattle Poet Populist, Walker published his first book, Shuffle and Breakdown, just a few months ago. In it, Walker shows that he can be smart without being pretentious, formal without being conservative, and funny without being slight. He has an ease, even a fascination with often dismissed forms, and plays with them in new ways ...

Walker includes some short prose poems that he calls 'The Cheney Correspondence (Selected).' There are surprising numbers of contemporary poems that deal in one way or another with the former vice president; I think poets could simply not believe he really said and did some of the things he did, so they tried to present some kind of sensitivity in the face of his callousness. Walker simply assumes that the vice president would be interested in a shared humanity. 'Dear Dick Cheney,' he writes, 'When I was younger I wanted to be a baseball player. But I can't remember whether I loved baseball, or whether I just wanted everyone to love me. A confession, then: I still want everyone to love me – blindly, entirely, without sense or reason. Even you, whom I've regularly excoriated. Fondly, Cody Walker.' Of course the moment is funny precisely because we all know Cheney wouldn't care in the least. – Keith Taylor


To read the full review, please click on the link below


But I wouldn't want to leave anyone with the impression that this poet is only funny. Shuffle and Breakdown ends with a series of poems written by Walt Whitman's mythical grandson to the near-dead master. One poem, claiming to be written from Chicago in 1891, has these lines: "I wrote you a long letter last week,/then threw it in the lake. It ended/Your optimism is wrong. It alone/sustains me."


From Shuffle and Breakdown


Four Things More

“I just don’t want everyone to remember him as the guy who fell off the balcony – he was so much more to us.” – from The Daily of the University of Washington

Say he sent gingerbread to the criminally forlorn.
Say he left too soon, like Thomas Chatterton.
Say he brokered a truce between the buckthorn and the peppercorn.
Say he was loved; he must have been.




Danger, Static

Arsenic in a blintz.
Bats in a belfry.
Caveats in a billet-doux.


Fuck you,
grubby advertisement.

Hey! Helena Bonham Carter! Hold me in your arms.
(I have a crush on you, Helena Bonham Carter.)

Jury duty in Iraq.
KKK at the A&P.
Loss. De lunatico inquirendo.

Meet me in Old Manhattan,
near the abandoned oyster farm,
or better, go to Hell,
Purgatory, Paradise – and be quick.


Ugh. Oof.
Vaporize me,
Water Lord.

Xanadu in ruins. Cosmic
year, complete. Rub dub
Zagreb (who cares) Yugoslavia.



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