4 out of 4 stars
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In addition to being a very poetic phrase, Walking on a Moonbeam is a very fitting title for a collection of poetry by an engineer who worked on the moon program - the program that first landed man on the moon. Bill McDonald's poetry is broken into nine distinct categories - Youth, Adventure, Love, Seasons, Change, Hope, Places And Things, Farewells and Prayer.
While I initially picked up this book for the insights of an engineer with nearly 50 years experience in "America's space and national defense programs", I was surprised at how great his outlooks at regular life were as well. Even the brightest minds who can safely send mankind and spacecraft into outer space are human beings, and Bill takes us on mini-looks at his life in these 21 poems. Along with the poems, Bill includes numerous quotes from Shakespeare, Saint Augustus, Aristotle, the Bible, C. S. Lewis and other various famous authors and philosophers at the beginning of each section. These are particularly excellent and the majority of them were new to me, but all of them fit well with the section they were used in. There are also various black and white photos throughout - some of the author, some of those he knew and loved and others of varying sights and views. Like the quotes, these are very fitting with their respective poems or sections.
While only a few of the poems stood out to me as exceptional, there also wasn't a single poem I didn't like. Every one of the 20+ poems was enjoyable, and I liked that the topics were so varied throughout. Bill also did a great job bringing me into each moment - "Life on the Creek" masterfully captured childhood before technology and all four poems focused on the seasons (one for each season) not only captured living in that season but also the shifting feelings, views and temperatures from one to the next. I felt worried alongside him with "Don't Leave Me Alone", a poem that captures Bill's concern at an ill wife while he's away from her and "Farewell my Brother" is akin to the bottled-up essence of not wanting to let go of coworkers who have become like family over such a long period of time together. The titular poem, "Walking on a Moonbeam" not only embodies the childlike wonderment of what secrets the moon holds, it's remarkably poetic and it's also especially fitting for someone who ended up helping land mankind on the moon. Finally, "The Greatest Adventure", the longest poem in the book, does an amazing job of capturing how the engineers (like him) felt when man successfully landed and walked on the moon. It's easy to forget what an amazing accomplishment that truly was!
There are other poems of course, and like I said I ended up enjoying them all. Bill uses either an ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme throughout, and while syllable counts rarely match up they're often similar or so different that it's clearly done on purpose. Bill does sometimes break these rhyming rules, instead repeating a line ("Which way, Dad?" in the poem "Which Way Dad?") or merely using free-verse for a bit. His two poems in the Prayer section - "The Blessing" and "My Daily Prayer" - are perhaps the biggest breath of fresh air as they feel the most natural; if you were to read these two poems aloud in a paragraph instead of in their original poem forms you may not even realize they rhyme since they flow so naturally! It made me wish these were somewhere in the middle to mix things up instead of at the end.
I really appreciated that Bill included a really solid introduction. Not only did he give some information about his own past, he gave insight into the backstories and inspirations behind every single one of his poems in the collection. These made it far easier to relate to what was going on in the moment and connect with what was being said. Between this incredible introduction, the photos and the quotes it was remarkably easy to follow the journey Bill laid out in his poetry.
Between the solid collection of consistently good poetry, the introduction, the photos and the quotes it's incredibly easy to give this collection 4 out of 4 stars. Bill wrote at the end that perhaps he'll write more poetry now that he's retired and perhaps he won't; I, for one, definitely hope Bill's retirement allows for some good writing time. For those who enjoy poetry, especially poetry that's less vague and more straightforward, give this collection a shot! Those who prefer deeper, multi-layered heavy poetry may be a bit let down by most of the poems here, but for those like me who enjoy both, it's still excellent.
Walking on a Moonbeam
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