Walter McDonald

b. 1934
Walter McDonald

Poet Walter McDonald was born in 1934. A long-time resident of Texas, he served in the Air Force and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He earned his PhD from the University of Iowa, and taught at Texas Tech University, where he is the Paul Whitfield Horn Professor Emeritus. McDonald has published more than 20 books of poetry, including Faith is a Radical Master (2005), A Thousand Miles of Stars (2004), Climbing the Divide (2003), and Great Lonely Places of the Plains (2003). Frequently concerned with landscape and place, including Texas, McDonald’s work is known for its clear, narrative style and moral heft. McDonald, who has published over 2,000 poems in journals and literary magazines, told Contemporary Authors: “I came to poetry late. As a young Air Force pilot, when I applied to teach English at the Air Force Academy, what I wanted to do was hang around some of the best stories in the world and to share them with others. After some of my friends went off to Vietnam, and one was shot down, then another, I felt a need to say something to them, or about them. I could talk to their wives or widows, but I turned to poems when nothing else worked; my first stumbling attempts were like letters to the dead. When my first book was published—mainly war poems—a friend asked, ‘Where’s Texas in your poems, Walt?’ I didn’t know; I had never thought about it. But I started looking around and, sure enough, I began to feel the call of my wild, native West Texas—which I knew better than I knew Iowa, better than Colorado, better than Vietnam.

“For years, I had not considered this world to be my home. But, when I let down my bucket in a plains region doomed to dry up, I found all sorts of images for poems, even if I could live to write for forty years in that suddenly fabulous desert… Every poem is a metaphor of how it feels to someone to be alive at some time, at some place. I didn’t write many poems before I came back from Vietnam, so I may be wrong, but I think that’s what a poem becomes… I love flying, a matter of life or death; but a good story or poem expresses some of the splendor we all need. Oh, it is not as much joy as holding hands with my wife in the park, or bending down to lift one of my granddaughters above my head and feel her hug my neck. I know the difference between a poem and a person.”

The recipient of numerous honors and awards for his work, including six awards from the Texas Institute of Letters and four Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, McDonald received the Bookend Award for a lifetime of contributions to Texas literature from Texas Tech University Press in 2004.




Career

U.S. Air Force, career officer, 1957- 71, instructor at U.S. Air Force Academy, 1960-62, 1965-66, assistant professor, 1966, associate professor of English, 1967-71, retired as major; Texas Tech University, Lubbock, associate professor, 1971-75, professor of English, 1975- 87, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of English, 1987-2002, director of creative writing, 1972-2002. Texas Commission on the Arts, member of literature advisory panel, 1986-88. Texas Tech Press, poetry editor, 1977-95.

Bibliography

POETRY

  • Caliban in Blue and Other Poems, Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 1976.One Third Leads to Another, Cedar Rock Press (New Braunfels, TX), 1978.
  • Anything, Anything, L’Epervier (Seattle, WA), 1980.
  • Burning the Fence, Texas Tech University Press, 1981.
  • Working against Time, Calliope Press (Walnut Creek, CA), 1981.
  • Witching on Hardscrabble, Spoon River Poetry Press (Granite Falls, MN), 1985.
  • The Flying Dutchman, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1987.
  • Splitting Wood for Winter (trilobite poetry chapbook), University of North Texas Press (Denton, TX), 1988.
  • After the Noise of Saigon, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1988.
  • Rafting the Brazos, University of North Texas Press (Denton, TX), 1988.
  • Night Landings, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
  • The Digs in Escondido Canyon, Texas Tech University Press, 1991.
  • All That Matters: The Texas Plains in Photographs and Poems, photographs selected by Janet M. Neugebauer, Texas Tech University Press, 1992.
  • Where Skies Are Not Cloudy, University of North Texas Press (Denton, TX), 1993.
  • Counting Survivors, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.
  • Blessings the Body Gave, Ohio State University Press, 1998.
  • Whenever the Wind Delivers: Celebrating West Texas and the Near Southwest, photographs selected by Janet M. Neugebauer, Texas Tech University Press, 1999.
  • All Occasions, University of Notre Dame, 2000.
  • Climbing the Divide, University of Notre Dame, 2003.
  • Great Lonely Places of the Texas Plains, photographs by Wyman Meinzer, Texas Tech University Press, 2003.
  • A Thousand Miles of Stars, Texas Tech University Press, 2004.
  • Faith is a Radical Master: New and Selected Poems, ACU Press (Abilene, TX), 2005.

OTHER

  • (Editor with Frederick Kiley) A “Catch-22” Casebook, Crowell (New York, NY), 1973.
  • (Editor with James White) Texas Prize Stories and Poems, Texas Center for Writers Press, 1978.
  • A Band of Brothers: Stories from Vietnam, Texas Tech University Press, 1989.

Contributor of more than 2,300 stories, poems, and articles to various literature journals, including TriQuarterly, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Atlantic, and North American Review.


Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Whittington, Janice, and Andrew Hudgins, editors, The Waltz He Was Born For: An Introduction to the Writing of Walt McDonald, Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2002.
PERIODICALS
  • Prairie Schooner, spring 2003, Stephen C. Behrendt, review of All Occasions.

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

LIFE SPAN 1934–

Walter McDonald

Biography

Poet Walter McDonald was born in 1934. A long-time resident of Texas, he served in the Air Force and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He earned his PhD from the University of Iowa, and taught at Texas Tech University, where he is the Paul Whitfield Horn Professor Emeritus. McDonald has published more than 20 books of poetry, including Faith is a Radical Master (2005), A Thousand Miles of Stars (2004), Climbing the Divide (2003), . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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