Frank X. Walker's book, "Turn Me Loose: The
Unghosting of Medgar Evers," with pages
marked on his table at his home in Lexington,
Kentucky, April 17, 2013. Walker was recently
named Kentucky poet laureate.
Ky. — Writer Frank X Walker is driving to Alabama with
a trunk full of books.
eight-hour trip is not out of the ordinary for Walker,
who is promoting his latest collection of poems,
"Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar
Evers" (University of Georgia Press, $16.95).
job that will take him on the road starts this week: He
is being installed as the 2013-14 Kentucky poet
laureate, the first black writer and the youngest person
to hold the post, in a ceremony as part of Kentucky
Writers’ Day on Wednesday in Frankfort. As poet
laureate, Walker, an associate professor in the
University of Kentucky department of English, will
promote the literary arts through readings at meetings,
seminars and conferences across the state during the
51, welcomes the solace of the open road. Whether
driving or biking, one of his pastimes, the long
stretches of silence are conducive to his creative
is the meditative quality of golf.
lot of my writing process is just about sort of teasing
things out," he says by phone from the road.
golf to kind of clear my head and work things out,"
the Danville native says. "I try not to take my
cellphone with me. It gives me free space to think, to
tease those things out, to think about a new poem or new
idea or new structure."
Walker’s poetic subject was a slave’s role in the
epic expansion of the American West, he logged thousands
of miles in the car.
and his son spent summers driving across the country,
following the trail of early 19th-century explorers
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark while Walker was
working on "Buffalo Dance: The Journey of
York," his 2003 collection of poems written in the
voice of Clark’s personal slave, York, who accompanied
Lewis and Clark on their historic journey.
made all of the stops at those historical sites,"
Walker says of the trip out West. "I needed as much
authenticity as possible.
I was in that space where the expedition happened, I
realized I had left out a main character, and that was
included the landscape in the poems and added a map that
was a more accurate representation of York’s journey,
which began in Louisville.
now York, finally, has a voice," acclaimed poet
Nikki Giovanni wrote of "Buffalo Dance."
a voice to the voiceless, or to those whom established
history has largely overlooked, is a major component of
Walker’s artistic work.
frequently has written persona poems, a technique in
which the poet writes from a character or subject’s
point of view. "Buffalo Dance," for instance,
was written predominantly in what Walker imagined to be
Me Loose" gets its name from the last words
reportedly spoken by Evers, a black civil rights
activist who worked to overturn segregation at the
University of Mississippi. He was assassinated by white
supremacist Byron De La Beckwith on June 12, 1963. At
his first two trials, in 1964, all-white, all-male
juries failed to reach verdicts. It wasn’t until 1994
that De La Beckwith was convicted of murder for killing
Evers; he died in prison in 2001.
book is unique because, except for the title and an
epigraph, readers never hear the voice of Evers. Walker
instead paints Evers as a ghostlike figure haunting the
pages and the lives of those around him, including his
wife, Myrlie, and his brother Charles, a theme
punctuated by the book’s subtitle, "The
Unghosting of Medgar Evers."
though he doesn’t speak, he’s very present,"
thought if you put the collection of voices around him,
you might get a more accurate story," says Walker,
who adds that branching out to include more and more
voices seems like a natural artistic progression.
Me Loose" also includes poems written in the voice
of De La Beckwith and his two wives.
is not the first artist to focus on Evers. Musicians Bob
Dylan and Nina Simone wrote songs about the injustices
of the era, and the 1996 film "Ghosts of
Mississippi," based on a book by Maryanne Vollers,
centered on De La Beckwith’s eventual conviction.
Walker is the first writer to devote a full collection
of poems to Evers’ life and legacy.
would like to think that I don’t consciously choose my
subjects," he says. "I like to think that they
choose me or something happens that makes it seem like
an obvious choice, and in the case of Medgar Evers, it
was actually a poem by Lucille Clifton."
poem by the acclaimed poet, herself a poet laureate of
Maryland, talks about how De La Beckwith would have the
opportunity to become an old man, but Evers, dead at 37,
was something about that poem that stuck with me,"
Walker says. "A week later I was still wondering
about it and trying to dig deeper into it."
Walker realized he was fully immersed in research, and
"It was too late to turn back."