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John C. Walker.

Toronto, Proclaim Publications, c1982.
Distributed by Aquitaine Records, Box 130, Station Z, Toronto, ON, M5N1A0.
60pp, paperbound boards, $12.95.
ISBN 0-919415-01-6.

Grades 9 and up.
Reviewed by Patrick Dunn.

Volume 11 Number 5.
1983 September.

Severe lack of oxygen at birth left John Walker a mute, cerebral palsied quadriplegic. Although denied all but minimal bodily control, he somehow managed to achieve a rudimentary stage of crawling and later to count and even to read from large cards. Not surprisingly, normal communication remained, in his mother's words, "an unsatisfactory mélange of body language, twenty questions and plain family ESP." Undeterred, the family sought to provide him with a broader education. After many disappointments, McMaster University offered him a course in Blisssymbolics, a non-verbal communication system. All the while, the Walkers remained determined to include him in their outings, whether to Expo '67, a picnic at the beach or winter sliding on a slope near home. Nevertheless, such events became more difficult to orchestrate as John grew older, and music and song, naturally enough, began to occupy an ever-increasing part of his life. Over the years he acquired a rather extensive collection of recordings and one day, using the Bliss system, he "told" Lesley, his sister, that he wanted to "talk" through his records. Using eye codes and voice sounds he directed her to a particular record, to a particular cut and finally to the particular words or phrases he wanted. Lesley wrote them down. Out of these transcriptions his poems emerged.

What can one say? The very fact that John overcame such crushing physical and psychological limitations to create such a collection of poetry speaks for itself. The very fact that John refused to remain locked in the terrible silence he was born into speaks of a force, an energy, a spirit (call it what you will), that humankind needs so desperately to be continually reminded of.

The poems themselves speak openly of John's emotions, his innermost feelings. We learn of his frustration, his loneliness, his fear, his despair: "My heartbeat is as black as night/a nightmare." We come to share his happiness, his humour, his hope, his joy. We come to know his very real courage and, above all, to be touched, genuinely moved, by his love:

         To anyone who has a heart
         All my love I give.
         I don't want my feelings to show
         I just want you to feel the fire.

And this is precisely what we do feel: not only John's passion for life but also that fierce devotion that his family, spontaneously, unstintingly, showered on him, enveloped him with, from birth. Clearly, it is impossible to dissociate John from his family. Who wrote these poems? Was it John who chose the words? Or Lesley who wrote them down? Or his mother, Jean, who looks to his physical needs? Or perhaps the artists who first recorded the songs? Who can tell, who can say? "How can we know the dancer from the dance?," asks Yeats.

Because of the madness of Auschwitz, the insanity of Hiroshima, the agony of Lebanon, the final obscenity of cruise and MX and overkill, because of humankind's continuous, obsessive inhumanity to itself, because of this, and more, we need the Walkers, all of them, to demonstrate what is possible, what is real, what life is, after all, about. Their actions, their integrity define and proclaim and fulfil our humanity. Without their example, we are lost.

The book, itself, is a handsome package, well bound with extremely pleasing typeface, ink and paper stock. The cover and page illustrations complement the text, simply, quietly, harmoniously. The choice of one image, the sea horse, seems most appropriate: on the one hand, its delicate structure mirrors John's fragile body; on the other, a stallion's strength and unbridled energy symbolize John's emotional vigour, his vital spiritual independence.

This remarkable young man dedicated his writing to all handicapped people. In a very real sense, it is addressed to all people. Recommended, without reservation, for school and public libraries.

Patrick Dunn, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
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