Friday, February 21, 2014


Christal Cooper 1,148 Words


         Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, 53,  is one of the greatest persona poets of our time, giving voices to African Americans who have made good differences to the world.

         One of those African Americans he writes about is the legendary jockey Isaac Murphy (1861 – 1896) in his book Isaac Murphy I Dedicate This Ride, published in 2010 by Old Cove Press.     
         Walker did not know of Isaac Murphy’s existence until he was in high school, attending Danville High School in his hometown of Danville, Kentucky.

         At the time of learning about Isaac Murphy, Walker was two personalities in one:  the nerd and the jock.  He told Progressive Radio that there were some students who thought he had a twin, because the nerd and the jock were so different, but yet, they were one in the same. 

It only seemed fitting that his classmates christened him, twice elected class president, with a new name of “X” to take into account the two sides of Walker.   

         It wasn’t until 2009 that Isaac Murphy came into Walker’s life – when Walker was commissioned to write a play about Isaac Murphy’s legendary career and life.

         The commission of writing the play grew to the desire to write a collection of persona poems about Isaac Murphy with Isaac Murphy’s voice, the voice of Murphy’s parents James and America Burns; his mentor Eli Jordan; and his wife Lucy Murphy, whom Walker dedicated the poetry collection to.

         Walker, the second of ten children, is a private poet, and never writes about himself, or about his family, but the influence of women in his life has been a strong one, stemming from when he was a boy, enduring a gruesome arm injury by getting his arm caught in the barrel of an old time washing machine.

         While he was recovering from the arm injury, his mother brought him books, magazines, and other materials to read.  It is because of this (and not having a television set) that he developed his love for reading and words and recognized their “magical power.” 

He read The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew Series, Sherlock Holms, and devoured Childcraft Encyclopedias, a gift from his mother.  It wasn’t until his high school years that he started writing poetry. 

         Walker is proud of his history of being reared by women and credits their influence in giving him the ability to create the female voices in his persona poems, especially the female voices in his historical book of poetry about the Lewis and Clark expedition via Clark’s personal slave York’s voice in Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York.

“I believe that because I was raised by women, have been blessed with six sisters, and survived multiple failed relationships, I actually lived the research material I needed to create most of the authentic sounding female voices in my historical poetry.” Walker told CX Dillhunt and Drew Dillhunt in an online interview last year.

         Using the same research that he obtained while writing the play on Isaac Murphy’s life and career, Walker sat in his home office and wrote the persona poems in longhand with ink in his personal journal.   

         In his home office are:  posters of Malcolm X and Jamaican political leader and poet Marcus Garvey; photograph of his bride, Taunya, of less than a year, and other family photos.  

Also in the office are three bookshelves of books, magazines, and other writing materials.  Perhaps the most creative thing in his office, besides paper, is his golf putter.

         He told Kentucky reporter Candace Chaney in April of last year, “A lot of my writing process is just about sort of teasing things out.  I golf to kind of clear my head and work things out.”

The prolific poet writes at least one poem a day, does not believe in writer’s block, and does not carry a cell phone when he is writing:  “I try not to take my cell phone 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 told Chaney in April of 2013.            
Walker has written six poetry collections, four of those are persona poem collections.

         “Persona poems are poems written in the voice of someone other than the poet.  Adequate research is necessary to make these poems effective.”

Walker believes young people, especially African American Men, will benefit from reading these poetry persona collections because they will learn about history and discover good role models.”

Walker is associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky.  He is presently working on two poetry collections, a play, and has just completed his first novel, which he described as a dream come true.

Walker can be reached via his email at
or visit his website at

Walker’s favorite poem from Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride is “Prairie Song,” because of its connection to the African American literary tradition. What makes this poem an unusual rarity is that it is written in the voice of Walker, telling of his personal experience visiting Isaac Murphy’s final resting place.

Praise Song        
Frank X Walker

Straddling the distance between
African Cemetery No. 2
and the Kentucky Horse Park,
between the straw-lined stables
at Churchill Downs
and the view from Millionaires Row,
between our racist history
and our proud past,
I offer these words, this elegy,
this praise song for Isaac.

For every master teacher
blessed with a willing student,
for Jimmy Winkfield and William Walker,
Pat Day and Calvin Borel,
Eddie Arcaro and Angel Cordero Jr.,
for every jockey hypnotized
by the speed, power
and the music of racing.

For every trainer, groom, hot walker
and stable hand who palmed a brush,
carried a bucket or lifted a shovel.

For every Derby Day hero
generous enough to take a jockey
along for the ride,
for every yearling dreaming
of a garland of roses,
for every also-ran.

I recommit this husband to his wife,
this son to his mother,
this student to his teacher.
I offer all of them to each of us.

I dedicate this ride to a man
whose life’s work was a blueprint
for anyone          black, white or brown
hoping to build something  better,
hoping to fulfill their own potential,
to use all their gifts and blessings
in an honorable way.

Isaac Murphy’s life teaches us
How to honor our parents,
how to love full speed,
how to outrun prejudice and oppression.

I dedicate this ride
to America and Kentucky’s son,
to a legacy worthy of a star on the walk,
a boulevard named in his honor,
this book.

Wrap your arms around his story,
close your eyes,
feel the wind whispering in your ears.

Grab the reins of any and everything
that makes your heart race.
Find your purpose.  Find your purpose.
And hold on.

*Copyright by Frank X Walker and Old Cove Press.
*Printed with permission from Frank X Walker.


Photo 1, 6, 13, 17, 18
Frank X Walker.  Attributed to Rachel Eliza Griffiths.  Copyright by Frank X Walker and Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Photo 2
Jacket cover of Isaac Murphy:  I Dedicate This Ride.

Photo 3.
Old Cove Press Logo.  (

Photo 4
Downtown Danville, Kentucky.  Attributed to Russell and Sydney Poore.  GNUFD License. And CCASA 3.0 Unported, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.0 Generic.

Photo 5
Isaac Murphy.  Public Domain.

Photo 7
Isaac Murphy racing.  Public Domain.

Photo 8
Lucy Murphy.  Public Domain.

Photo 9
Manual barrel washer, manufactured by J.V. Obradampf, Germany, 1930-1935.  GNU Free Documentation License.  CCASA 3.0, 2.5 , 2.0, and 1.0 license. 

Photo 10
Jacket cover of The Tower Treasure

Photo 11
Childcraft Encyclopedias in a home in India.  GNU Free Documentation License and CCASA License.

Photo 12
Jacket cover of Buffalo Dance The Journey Of York

Photo 14
Malcolm X in March of 1964.  Attributed to Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.  is photograph is a work for hire created prior to 1968 by a staff photographer at New York World-Telegram & Sun. It is part of a collection donated to the Library of Congress. Per the deed of gift, New York World-Telegram & Sun dedicated to the public all rights it held for the photographs in this collection upon its donation to the Library. Thus, there are no known restrictions on the usage of this photograph.

Photo 15
Marcus Garvey at his office on August 5, 1924.  Attributed to George Grantham Bain.  Library of Congress – no known restrictions on this photo.

Photo 16
Indoor putting green.  Public Domain.

Photo 19
Jacket cover of When Winter Come:  The Ascension of York

Photo 20
Jacket cover of Turn Me Loose:  The Unghosting of Medgar Evers.

Photo 21
Partial image of jacket cover of Isaac Murphy:  I Dedicate This Ride

Photo 22
Frank X Walker.  Photo attributed to Tracy A Hawkins.  Copyright by Frank X Walker.

Photo 23.
Isaac Murphy.  Public Domain.

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