The Nature Thief

Henry WaltersPublication: October 7th, 2022

£10.99

Finalist for the sixteenth Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize

A compendium of clues and the mysteries they point to, The Nature Thief begins in the shadow of a crime: something’s amiss. In poems that take the part of felon and victim, detective and witness, judge and jury, the case becomes more puzzling and more ancient: what’s gone missing is not only an apple from the Garden, or fire from Olympus, or what Ophelia calls “the beauteous majesty of Denmark,” but nothing less than a world, a compendium of thefts over which all of us, thieves ourselves, keep watch.

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ISBN: 978-1-911379-06-5 Extent: 96pp Category:

The Nature Thief

Henry Walters writes with the whole of the English language on hand, and in his springing poems, sprung from Hamlet, sprung from experience, a marbled pebble is as eye-opening as a manuscript by Aeschylus. Bitterns plus automatic car washes plus Greek grammar plus fennec foxes plus the angels of the future–combined in the mind of Mr. Walters–equals a wingding of a book. These poems are occasions to rise to, exhilaratingly, and reading them I felt ‘the free carom of delight.’ There is no Henry Walters but Henry Walters, and English has never been fresher. — Amy Leach

‘What’s more precise than precision? Illusion,’ wrote Marianne Moore. By illusion, I think she meant imagination, one like her own — slippery, cavorting, but also somehow revealing the deeper aspects of the natural world, other people, even herself. Whether walking in the woods or meeting a newborn, Henry Walters looks with precision at his surroundings. But in The Nature Thief, we revel even more in his rambunctious, reality-seeking imagination. ‘Each day I’m cracked wide open/ to let your risen body pass.’ Here is a poet who connects idiosyncrasies of ancient Greek grammar to our modern-day bee crisis, who knows that ‘precarious descends from sounds that meant to pray,’ who hears ‘hesitant start-of-the-rain-storm choliambs.’ I’ve experienced few recent pleasures like Walters’ unguarded complexities. — Nate Klug

Recent death knells to the contrary, it appears the traditions of Western literature haven’t died an unceremonious death. Neither relic nor homage nor restoration, Henry Walters’ The Nature Thief gives proof to Faulkner’s famous adage: ‘The past is not dead, it is not even past.’ Poetry is a history of language, and Walters’ full-throated poems are pitched high and low, lyrical at one moment, street-wise the next, drawing on sources as various as a deconstructed Hamlet, a Greek grammar, the sound of a pool ball dropping into a leather pocket. Nothing is unlikely to find its way in, and nothing is unlikely to be burnished by the lyrical sway of this erudite and immensely talented poet. — Sherod Santos

Henry Walters’s poetic vehicle is ignited by ingenuity, fueled by extravagance, and guided by form. His tradition is Joycean, and he too delights in eldritch diction and in wordplay gaudy (the ‘explosive ink’) and disguised (‘the rigor of mortise work’ and even ‘Give me light & a lift). Among other things an apiologist, he is himself a polylect, as well as a precise maximalist, a lyricist of science, a builder of breaches that bridge (‘a crack’s / a form of bond’), a mainstream eccentric. — Stephen Yenser

Two poems from Henry Walters’ The Nature Thief

Lullaby

Time’s continuous is what you’re taught.
Meanwhile a spider’s made traps of the irises.
The woods are full of these stories without plot.

I found a mushroom white as a dinner plate.
They say the edibles mimic the poisonous.
Time’s continual. Is what you’re taught

of any use at all? Somehow I forgot
the name of whatever’s doing in the honeybees.
The wards are full. This story has no plot:

new blights in the beeches, the ashes, the oaks. The rot
spreads night by night, whatever the disease.
Time’s contiguous is what. You’re taught

what your parents saw & spoke & thought
except they glossed (on purpose?) the pointlessness
the world’s so full of. Stories without plot

are what I want to hum when the light goes out
& the dark comes down between & over us.
Time discontinues, & all you’re taught
is words, words to the story we’re about.

 

 

King of Infinite Space

Not two inches tall, a conquistador’s horse,
stepping as high through his terrarium
as any life-size bronze in monument.

Hock-deep in moss, fern-shaded, he restores
the Old-World grandeur he’s imported from.
He’s there for illusion’s sake, is what I meant,

to scale the proportions. Maybe his Spaniard knows
how small the jungle is, how low the dome,
how the air, the heat, the gargantuan sweating plants,

are toys under glass in someone else’s room.
The marvel of it is he’d care to claim
dominion in such a country, dominance,

staked to his bit of earth as if he were
the flag of his own unnature, in miniature.

 

Excerpts

Two poems from Henry Walters' The Nature Thief

Lullaby

Time’s continuous is what you’re taught.
Meanwhile a spider’s made traps of the irises.
The woods are full of these stories without plot.

I found a mushroom white as a dinner plate.
They say the edibles mimic the poisonous.
Time’s continual. Is what you’re taught

of any use at all? Somehow I forgot
the name of whatever’s doing in the honeybees.
The wards are full. This story has no plot:

new blights in the beeches, the ashes, the oaks. The rot
spreads night by night, whatever the disease.
Time’s contiguous is what. You’re taught

what your parents saw & spoke & thought
except they glossed (on purpose?) the pointlessness
the world’s so full of. Stories without plot

are what I want to hum when the light goes out
& the dark comes down between & over us.
Time discontinues, & all you’re taught
is words, words to the story we’re about.

 

 

King of Infinite Space

Not two inches tall, a conquistador’s horse,
stepping as high through his terrarium
as any life-size bronze in monument.

Hock-deep in moss, fern-shaded, he restores
the Old-World grandeur he’s imported from.
He’s there for illusion’s sake, is what I meant,

to scale the proportions. Maybe his Spaniard knows
how small the jungle is, how low the dome,
how the air, the heat, the gargantuan sweating plants,

are toys under glass in someone else’s room.
The marvel of it is he’d care to claim
dominion in such a country, dominance,

staked to his bit of earth as if he were
the flag of his own unnature, in miniature.