Note: Before I started reviewing on my own blog, I reviewed books on Examiner.com. Now that it is ceasing to publish, I am moving my reviews to this site.
In Michael Ryan’s new collection of poems, This Morning, Ryan combines a wry sense of humor with a clear eye for the difficulties and atrocities of life. In “A Cartoon of Hurt,” for example, Ryan has a vision of his father “forty years dead, rummaging my liquor” that culminates in a vision of pain that is both his father’s and his own:
The Twist-off beer caps shred your hands to Kleenex.
The pulltab of a tallboy pulls half a finger off.
You howl in pain you couldn’t feel but felt,
the same pain of yours I couldn’t feel but felt,
This same comic vision is brings focus on pain often in these poems. The best poem in the book, “The Dog,” begins with the acknowledgement of pain (“The neighbors’ baby died age one month”) which Ryan immediately undercuts (“So they’re off to Big Sur ‘to celebrate her life’ / And I stupidly agreed to feed their dog”). What follows is farcical enough to be a comic movie, and yet the pain holds on throughout.
This collection visits all sorts of pain, whether it is of a dog missing its family, a father watching his daughter grow up, or a man haunted by a final cell phone message his wife left before dying in a car crash. In “Splittsville,” Ryan uses rhyme to put a wryness into a conversation between battling spouses:
If I were gone you’d be all right.
What is that supposed to mean?
I see you’re looking for a fight.
You are such the drama queen.
Ryan moves comfortably in these poems between rhyme, near rhyme and free verse. His lines are usually metrical, and his poems are vivid with detail and feeling. This is a strong collection from a poet who deserves a wider audience.