Matthew Duffus Reviews Ricky Ray's FEALTY for Valparaiso Poetry Review

From Matthew Duffus:

The epigraph to Ricky Ray’s stunning debut, Fealty, comes from William Stafford’s The Answers Are Inside the Mountains: Meditations on the Writing Life: “The earth says have a place, / be what that place requires.” These lines emphasize two of Ray’s major themes—the importance of the natural world and humanity’s attempts to live up to this world’s majesty. Divided into three lengthy sections, Fealty includes poems dedicated to or in conversation with many other poets, including Wendell Berry (one of the book’s dedicatees), Czesław Miłosz, and C.D. Wright, among others. As is often the case when prominent poets are named in a younger poet’s work, these are indications of Ray’s influences. Even more, however, as the book goes on and the names accrue, they become aspirational figures as well. If Ray continues to build on this collection’s heights, he will one day find himself named among the above figures in a future debut poet’s work.

Read on at Valparaiso Poetry Review Spring/Summer 2020: Volume XXI, Number 2


About the Collection


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.

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