Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The sound of the earth singing to herself, Ricky RayThe jacket has a pale cream background. Text, all below the centre, and really into the bottom third, consists of the title, over two centred line, in sans serif caps. Below this, in small regular black italics, 'Poetry by Ricky Ray'. There is a publisher logo of a pen nib in a circle centred at the foot. Bottom right hand corner a circular sticker in pale blue with part of the circle disappearing off the edges. Black caps on the sticker read LIMITED EDITION. Above the text a large monocrhome image of a woman's head and shoulders  in profile takes up most of the space. The image has had foliage superimposed, so it's a kind of mixture of woman and tree. Her head disappears into light, somewhere around her eyeline.

Fly on the Wall Press, 2020 — £6.99

Compassion through pain

Ricky Ray’s pamphlet has grown in depth and resonance the more I’ve thought about it.

Ray shares his personal experience in a flowing, rhythmic style that beautifully conveys his life-affirming ethos for relating to the world. The collection reads like a gentle manifesto calling us to compassion, gratitude and appreciation for the natural world, and the people in it.

‘Electricity was a luxury in that clapboard house’ are the opening words of ‘Sometimes Vision Withers on the Vine,’ in which the poet describes his childhood, raised by a father who struggled with addictions. However, none of the poems are gratuitous in their depictions of the difficult aspects of this upbringing. Instead, simply, and without bitterness, Ray describes what it’s like to keep going in the face of huge challenges. These include a troubled, impoverished home, and disability/chronic pain. When such dark concerns underpin poems imbued with wonder and gratitude, the reading experience is profound.

In ‘The End of My Brother’ the reader gradually realises the ‘brother’ is actually Ray’s childhood dog. We’re shown how much the boy and his pet have shared, and why such depth of feeling is understandable:

Imagine a dog who saved my father from alcohol
and despair. He was my brother, my guardian,
my teacher, my guide, and he raised me

on a savage hunger for every morsel of this world

Of course, many of us can understand the deep sorrow of losing a pet, but for a child who’s been through so much trauma, the loss of this beloved companion is hard to imagine.

Throughout the collection, Ray writes well about dogs (both this first one, Rascal, and his current one, Addie). He explores their movement, expressions, desires, and relationship to him. We feel the connection, and so are drawn into his appreciation for the value of living with other creatures.

Ray’s writing has encouraged me to think differently. It has uplifted me.

Zannah Kearns