Red Walls by James Tolan


In RED WALLS, James Tolan brings us a stunning collection that combines compassion, an abiding, underlying sense of loss, and glimpses of a father and a family deeply flawed and deeply human.

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  • Pages: 21
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-933675-61-9

I like the vivid lines that James Tolan is able to produce. He knows how to hold onto the hog and let go at the right moment. —Robert Bly

Inside RED WALLS you will find the kind of poetry that keeps America honest. This is American culture given in the legacies of working class grace, a place of toughness and sweetness, honesty and intelligence. James Tolan keeps a vigilant pen on the landscape of dreams that are his and connect to the dreams of every American. In that immense way of one poet at the page, he helps to keep us human. —Afaa Michael Weaver

From the wellspring of a ramshackle youth emerges a poet capable of great empathy, whose eloquence is embodied in reticent, measured, sensuous verse. This poet resurrects the catastrophe of childhood with hard-won insight. Yet even the wise poet might not get inside of us and seize us. James Tolan, though, does and, in his wisdom, realizes that memory is always in danger from the words meant to perpetuate it. His attention to craft is what allows for his knifing, unforgettable testimony. I wonder what word in this extraordinary collection can be done without. —Burt Kimmelman

The powerful recollections inside RED WALLS see a boy struggling to find his place in the masculine shadow of a stoic, hard-drinking father. These poems are a shining, skillfully mapped testament to survival, to the human spirit’s ability to endure and praise. —Dorianne Laux

In these rites of passage (leading off with the unforgettable poem “Chicago 1942,” set in that city’s stockyards), Tolan takes us with unflinching imagery to our own hungry, angry, conflicted places of the soul—delivering us, finally, “back to family and air.” —Jo McDougall

In these hard-hitting, compassionate poems James Tolan plumbs the emotional depths of male relationships, laying bare the difficult truths. His work will leave you stunned and wanting more. —Sheryl St. Germain

Jim Tolan’s poems in RED WALLS are vessels Mnemosyne would have recognized as just the kinds of work memory poems should be. These are poems taken with an unflinching heart and shaped by a wise and steady hand. In addition, this carefully contained work shows Tolan’s gift for line and sentence and trope and music in the crafting of poems. Here is a work you will not tire of reading over and over again. —Darrell Bourque

To grasp the viscera and wit of James Tolan’s collection, RED WALLS, notice that it begins and ends with hogs, “each in a pigpacked car,” moving through boys, booze, bricks, and blood: the blood of the body, the blood of the heart, the spill into the street: “There is never justice/ no way to balance carnage with trial/ There is only the meat and what we do / with it, or without, on the killing floor.” James Tolan has brought the flesh back to every word. —Estha Weiner

An Excerpt

Chicago 1942
after my father

Every day they pulled the boxcars squealing
up to the stockyard gates. Each pig-packed car
contained its own lead hog onto whose back
they’d drop a boy. Hold on, they’d bark,
as they slapped its ass and sent me bolting
toward the gates. A bar just over my head,
grab hold and the nickel was mine, miss
and the rest of the hogs would not.
I always held on. What choice did I have?

About the Author

James TolanJames Tolan is the author of two previous chapbooks Whiskey and the Rake of Mourning (Deadly Chaps 2011) and Fresh Fruit and Gravity (Far Gone Books 1997). He is an associate professor of English at the City University of New York and the co-editor, along with Holly Messitt, of the forthcoming New America (Autumn House Press) an anthology of contemporary literature.

Additional information

Weight 5 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in