By Ricky Ray
Eyewear Publishing, 2018
Available on Amazon
Ricky Ray has gathered some of his fine poetry and made an interesting, musical and often magical collection. This is a collection full of honest emotion, wry humor and even a little mind-bending experimentation. Mr. Ray has something to say and the skills it takes to say it well.
Fealty offers seventy poems, and they all have their own distinct flavor. Some challenge us, while others are starkly clear. Some bring a laugh or smile and some nudge up a little lump in the throat. And still others remind us of important truths but never in a proselytizing or preaching way.
Mr. Ray opens with an epigraph from William Stafford and he includes Wendell Berry in his dedication list. Many of the poems in the collection show the influence of those two American literary icons but the author does not get bogged down in efforts to imitate or emulate anyone. Even in poems marked “after” or “for” other authors – Cormac McCarthy, Carol Ciavonne, Geoffrey Hill, George Oppen and others – the poet retains his own clear voice.
There are a few intriguing poems that might seem a bit odd at first. “When to Reveal” is a persona poem from the viewpoint of a dying pet dog. It seems to lope down the page as it raises questions while revealing the state of the animal’s health. And shortly after that comes “Note with the Hand I Sent You” which seems to be “about” the narrator sending a friend one of his hands along with a note about its care: “Offer it a glove as soon as the air/smarts against the cheek./Keep it happy/with plenty of boob to feel/and it’ll gladly help you…” and earlier in the poem “It likes oatmeal and seaweed soaps,/scratching chins;/the occasional massage”. There’s a lively rhythm in this poem that matches the mood very nicely.
The concluding lines of “Listening” also create an intriguing and unusual picture – “a small-breasted birdsong/slips under the door.” This poem is similar to a linking of six sequential Haibun pieces with the birdsong lines providing a fine ending not just for the sixth section but for the entire poem.
There are short poems, poems a page or two long and a few that run several pages. There is a very interesting prose poem – “A Neighborhood of Vertebrae” – that examines living with a life-long physical disability. This poem is written without any expectation of pity. And the language, though somewhat clinical, never gets bogged down in jargon. Another longer poem - “The Word Want” – seems, in some stanzas, slightly political and in others decidedly personal and in direct conflict with the opening lines “First, let’s start with what we don’t want./We don’t want a dichotomy”. Then at the beginning of the third stanza we find “We want children that want to be doctors/and educators, or else undercover assassins/that will rid the world of evil”. And in the fourth stanza “We want people who deeply feel/and just as deeply care,/and we want them to do something smart/with all of those useless feelings.” It’s a poem full of conflict and yet at the end feels somehow resolved.
Mr. Ray’s collection is strong. It can satisfy serious, dedicated readers, and yet it is within reach of the more casual reader of poetry. There is humor, word-play and a bit of drama. There is much music in the lines. And this collection is a fine example of a poet’s growth in his art, which is always a valuable addition to a poetic library.
Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His chapbook Silence, Interrupted was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press and won first place for poetry chapbook in the Delaware Press Association writing competition. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Broadkill Review and other journals and anthologies. He is also a regular contributor of book reviews for The Broadkill Review. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.