Photo Courtesy of Jia Oak Baker, Photographer
Ricky Ray was born in Florida and educated at Columbia University. He is the founding editor of Rascal: a Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art. His awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, the Fortnight Poetry Prize and a Whisper River Poetry Prize. His work has appeared widely in periodicals and anthologies, including The American Scholar, The Matador Review, amaryllis, Scintilla and Fugue. He lives in Harlem with his wife, three cats, and a Labradetter. Their bed, like any good home of the heart, is frequently overcrowded.
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In Ricky Ray's debut collection, Fealty, the world quickly reveals itself as more complex and mysterious than we imagined. In poems surreal, feral, visceral, and yet tender, moving, and wise, Ray guides us through themes of love, death, animism, fidelity, belonging, and care. There is something of the ancients in his consciousness, which continually reminds us that we not only inhabit the earth, but are movements of the earth itself. Ray's connection to creatures great and small feels elemental; dog and dandelion stand beside man and mountain in the light. His eco-poetics, reminiscent of Wendell Berry and Joy Harjo, carries the dark passion of duende and the rhythmic swing of jazz manouche. All told, Ricky Ray is a modern-day mystic, and Fealty is a series of startling visions capable of inducing a more intimate kinship with the world.
Ever in service to poetry, Ricky Ray's Fealtyis a harrowing inquest into the connective tissue between self and other. The outlines and boundaries of being materialize and dissipate in turns in his poetic worlds. The self shifts; the self inhabits other selves; the spirit can possess and be possessed. Each blade of grass, each lightning strike, each pool of blood, each log fresh from the chopping block pulses with the poet's heartbeat, which he in turn freely feeds to the wolves and horses, the unwanted animals, the struggling, the decaying and the dead. In probing and electrifying verse, Ricky Ray's poems offer a bounty of a world in which every heartbreak, every brokenness, every death and despair transform into this very necessary living being of a book.
— Jenny Boully, author of The Body: An Essay
Ricky Ray's poems, sure of syntax and direct of speech, paradoxically succeed in bringing us deep into what he calls "the anguish of entanglement", which is to say the anguish of our intertwine with other species. The shifting ground between the human animal and the other animals, and between the animal and the plant, is, in his writing, always powerfully felt. If the biped's legs are dead wood, then dead wood dares lightning to strike, an ecstatic roar to brighten, a fire to warm or kill. A wild horse runs through these poems as well, stopping long enough to stare us down, to shiver us with duende. Beneath it all one feels the psycho-geography of what we now call "The Florida Everglades," that primordial soup in which life forms emerge, merge, or cancel one another out. There is nothing permanent about either "everglades" or "evergreens": Ricky Ray's Fealty is a celebration of the most extreme fragilities of the body and the planet.
— Leonard Schwartz, author of If
This book is the sermon we need after hours, when life’s sorrow overtakes our vision.
— Natalie Eilbert, author of Indictus
Inventiveness, lyricism and mystery—I like the way he plays with memory and finally catches memory off its guard.
— Claudia Emerson, Pulitzer laureate and author of Late Wife