Black Buzzard Press (Texas), 2008   $5.95 -

The title of this pamphlet by Elisavietta Ritchie comes from a poem by Marianne Moore, titled ‘Poetry’. I have it in the Norton Anthology, where a footnote tells me Moore later cut this poem from 29 lines to three. And to my ear, some of Elisavietta Ritchie’s poems could have benefited from the odd line being lost here and there.

in ‘Early Versions’, she herself comments on the danger of going public with poems too early:

How cleverly they deceive me into conceding
they are ready to shake wet wings, flutter soar—
forgetting, denying their origins.

But that said, these poems are full of real toads and music that flows like running water.

in ‘Ars Poetica’, Ritchie says “My points of departure/ are of manageable size,/ common, quick to escape”. And many of these poems are indeed, on the surface, about simple things: rain, a bottle of Chardonnay, peeling an orange. But many have hidden currents that I didn’t notice until I was caught in the undertow. I admire anyone who can write poems that do that. I kept looking to see how it was done, but like all good magic, the wires eluded me.

The poems are dense with images. Some seem to be painted in water colour; some in oils or gouache; some, like the poem about Ito Jakuchu, seem painted in ink on rice paper:

I imagine him as a boy in his father’s market:
he rearranges radishes fat with scarlet roots
or long and white as albino carrots,
in patterns like stones in temple courtyards.

Whatever the topic, I could feel the author in the poem, could almost hear her breathing as she led me line by line. Often this can be annoying, but I found Elisavietta Ritchie a pleasant companion.

The poems in Real Toads are not always easy to unravel but I found my persistence more than rewarded. I’ll certainly look at oranges, a bottle of Chardonnay and the toads in my garden very differently from now on.

Sue Butler

And the Young Reader adds:

The cover image of a toad hadn’t printed very well on my copy, but the paper’s texture and colour is quite ‘toady’, as it is on the inside pages too. The toads on the back cover appeared to have been imprinted on by accident, as if the chapbook had been put down somewhere and picked up a stain.

My view of the first few poems was that they were all about the same thing (writing poetry), only the way it was said was different—this time she’s using a napkin, now an orange as a metaphor. This can be good or bad, but I think that in this case it was done quite well.

When I read further through the book, I found that the poems got better and better, and a lot easier to get into. I particularly like ‘Ito Jakuchu’, but for what reason, I couldn’t tell. I just knew it was a good poem.

I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes poetry about poetry, and who is interested in re-reading poems to find even deeper meanings.