Poetry remains one of the most enigmatic, fleeting mediums, precisely because it can evoke powerful emotions with one line and unwanted laughter with the next. Raye’s choice to tackle classic themes of human existence ultimately results in a hit-and-miss collection. Lines such as “We bind ourselves to situations / That hurt us / To circumstances that take / us deeper into grief / But I kept coming back to you like a gate / Through which I must enter for relief,” from “I am a Fool,” have a certain resonance. But the free-form “Do Not Succumbed” attempts to pioneer new grammatical territory—“Do not succumbed. Cry tears, fold over in pain, be hurt and sadden, complain to the gods. But do not succumbed”—evoking a few eye rolls along the way. He combines a wide variety of cultural references, from author Edith Wharton to traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, with offbeat imagery (comparing the condition of being static, for example, to a “mountain kissing the sky”), which keeps the collection from becoming predictable. He groups the poems into seven different segments, starting with “Faces of Love,” quickly tumbling into “Despair,” and ultimately rising again to “The Muse.” The collection’s prevailing sentiments appear to uphold the tenet that although life is frequently painful, and sometimes unbearable, there are always joys to behold. Readers who read the poems in sequence will find themselves taking an unusual journey, with stops in ports of utter desolation. Luckily, Raye does not dwell unnecessarily in these dismal places but rather attempts to give a certain buoyancy to the ride. His imagery and unusual line rhythms create an experience that will delight some and frustrate others, but his tendency to set poems in both interior, emotional landscapes and literal, geographical ones keeps things lively. This is the work of a well-traveled author who puzzles over the agonies of the heart and, in so doing, reveals his own.
A wide-ranging, if uneven, poetry collection.