Ricky Ray is the kind of writer we need today, one that supports his fellow community of writers and stands for something beyond literary acclaim. From any outsider looking in, it is clear that he is a humble writer that is still inspired by others and welcomes comments about his own work. A writer’s writer.
Why is all this important? Because literature is often seen as a closed-off community. I started off as an English major during my undergraduate studies, and I was the typical, bright-eyed book-lover. But as my major progressed, my view of the literary community soured. It felt like if you didn’t read some obscure manuscript, you didn’t belong. Or if you liked to read Harry Potter more than War and Peace, you were looked down upon. So, I switched majors and never looked back. Luckily, my love of poetry and creative writing and books still remained. But the takeaway from all this is that we need people who support, inspire, and build bridges. Because these days, writers have an overabundance of places to show off their work. And sadly, there may not always be supportive people out there to encourage the next generation of writers.
Of course, that should not be the only reason why people should read Fealty. As I said, Ricky Ray is a writer’s writer. He showcases a variety of poems that highlight different techniques and moods and topics, which makes Fealty a good addition to anyone’s collection.
What I enjoy most about his work is that he writes about moments of simplicity. I gravitate towards relatable poetry moreso because, in my opinion, the beauty in poetry lies in its simplicity. If I wanted grand works with verbosity, I’d find a nice, long fantasy novel. Thus, visiting a vet (When to Reveal) or words in a dictionary (They Used to Be Things) or insects (The Enmity Between Spider and Bees) are all given equal attention. They don’t make sense together, and there is not really a consecutive theme throughout the whole book. And that’s not the point. The poems in Fealty force you to make new meaning out of our expansive world.
However, that’s not to say that Ricky Ray’s writing is simple. For example, A Neighborhood of Vertebrae is an interesting bit of prose about pain. It’s almost a run-on-sentence of thoughts, words someone would need to say to themselves as a way to distract from their situation. Thank You, on the other hand, is a dream-like piece, a little confusing at first until it binds itself together with the last lines:
I taste fate every time I swallow:
seaweed, bourbon, bile.
I spit at taunting death
and hear a star in my head say thank you.
Actually, there were many pieces like this, ones that get better after more readings, ones that make you think. There are so many lines that make you think twice. Instead of writing them here, I implore you to take a look at the book.
If you’re looking for a book of poetry that runs the gamut of a Poetry 101 course, I’d suggest this book. If you’re looking for a book of poetry that turns the mundane into something more interesting, I’d suggest this book. If you’re looking for modern poetry with some pieces that reflect an awareness of social issues, I’d suggest this book. This is not a book that you read cover-to-cover a la an anthology of a certain type of poetry. In that way, it’s slightly overwhelming in its scope. You might not know where to begin. However, it won’t take you long to find some favorites.
Ricky’s latest book, Fealty, can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Fealty-Ricky-Ray/dp/191247722X
Ricky Ray was born in Florida and educated at Columbia University. He is the author of Fealty (Eyewear, 2018) and the founding editor of Rascal: a Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art. His recent work can be found in The American Scholar, The Matador Review, Amaryllis, Scintilla and One. His awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, the Fortnight Poetry Prize, and a Whisper River Poetry Prize. He lives in Harlem with his wife, three cats and a Labradetter. Their bed, like any good home of the heart, is frequently overcrowded. Visit rickyray.co and rascaljournal.com for more.
Please also consider checking out a wonderful cause that Ricky is passionate about: https://www.wildbirdfund.org/ Their mission is to provide medical care and rehabilitation to native and passing migrant wildlife so that they can be released back into the wild. And to educate New Yorkers about the rich diversity of the city’s wildlife and how to help it thrive.