Ricky Ray’s collection Fealty took me completely by surprise. It’s a magical mix of surreal, dream-like verse with reoccurring themes including the environment, politics, overcoming difficulties, and survivorship. Ray is skilled in storytelling, and his work has that rare mythic quality which leaves the reader contemplating the past, present and future all at the same time. It’s an impressive first collection which took my breath away.
I found that many of Ray’s poems have a beautiful meditative quality to them. ‘Listening’ and ‘They Used to be Things’ help the reader to escape, if not briefly into the past to understand where they are now, from ‘Listening’:
He puts his head
to the table and listens.
It speaks through his skin, his skull, his mind, tells him all he can
remember of tables – of wood, trees, seeds and growth, of splinters
termites, rotting and soil
From ‘They Used to be Things’:
In the book were pages
and on the pages was ink
and in the ink were words
that were once ideas
we made of things
I find poetry like this takes you to another level before you’ve even realised it.
I also enjoyed how this collection made me question human nature and our belief systems. One of my favourite lines in the book comes from ‘Way of The Bear’:
Have the ghosts lost touch or have we lost the art of how to hear them?
The way of the bear stays in the bear, though we wear its head
and coat as we chant and pray to the forces for guidance
Every time I feel I’d found a favourite poem in this collection, I’d turn the page and see another. ‘A Neighbourhood of Vertebrae’ stood out to me for the way it described continuous pain and the effect this has. Not an easy to subject to tackle, but Ray does it with sensitivity and compassion:
…what would you think of
me if I admitted to hearing the spine speak in ten different
The other poem which stood out for me was ‘The Seven Hundred Sights in a Horse’, which reminded me of old legends and superstitions we carry around with us:
A wild horse ran through town.
It was always running.
Gospel was: something had
to be wrong with you to see it.
Everyone had seen it.
If you like reading poetry which makes you question everything and can stay with you for days after you’ve first read it, then this is the collection for you.
Ricky Ray is an outstanding poet and definitely one to watch for the future.