Ritchie offers a truly miscellaneous debut poetry collection that’s as strange as it is beautiful.
Reading this book is a bit like wandering through the attic of an eccentric recluse with exquisite taste. Every item that one unearths is a surprise, and each surprise is more engaging—indeed, more intoxicating—than the one that precedes it. The collection’s organizational structure is idiosyncratic, as each poem takes its title from a film; some of these films are real (Naked Lunch, The Redwoods), and some apparently aren’t (Porlock, Jumping Trains). All of these titles are followed by brief movie synopses and poems whose connections to the films often remain somewhat murky. Some reveal tongue-in-cheek humor; “The Grammar God,” for instance, imagines grammatical rules as being a sort of sloppy deity: “It belched. Semicolons lost their tails / and genealogies babbled on and on / without stopping to sip sweet tea / beneath an Arkansas summer sun.” (The discreet alliteration on the “s” consonant—“stopping,” “sip,” “sweet,” “summer,” “sun”—is a characteristically subtle effect.) Others are more poignant; “Mifune” is an elegy for Toshiro Mifune, the actor who made his mark working with the great director Akira Kurosawa: “Miserable from tuberculosis, he flung himself out / onto the landing and beneath the laundry. / Slugging his way across mud, he refused to die / until he caught and killed that bandit who hid among women.” Still other poems are personal (“Frankenstein”) or lyrical (“Opera in the Zoo”). The fact that Ritchie can so expertly handle such a wide variety of modes only proves his skill. Throughout, the poet’s tone tends toward the matter-of-fact; there are few bells and whistles here and little, if any, melodrama. But he doesn’t need them; the words do the work, as he’s a wordsmith of exceptional talent.
A gem of a collection that’s a joy to read.