Ron Koertge's The Ogre's Wife (Red hen Press) and Billy Ramsell's The Architect's Dream of Winter (Dedalus Press).
I’m jealous of Ron Koertge. I saw him read at Flintridge Bookstore in 2013 and he was a man at ease with his audience. His poetry, too, calmly unfolds itself into your palms and crawls up your sleeves. I first read The Brimstone Journals in one sitting and then went out and bought The Ogre’s Wife (Red Hen Press) immediately after. As a writer, his user-friendliness reminds of Paul Durcan; but whereas the latter has his verses rooted in Irish shenanigans, Koertge’s imagination pinballs itself from the hilarity of Never Let Your Reader’s Attention Wander to the darkly intriguing title poem: “This much I know: he hates it when I think. He wants/ his dinner, he wants to count his gold, he wants to snore./ He’d beat me if he knew I was writing this in blood...” There are poems in this collection that are akin to fairytales with nightmarish endings – The Invisible Man and his wife “home all day alone. That empty/ crib below a mobile of plastic question marks.” Indeed, there are poems in this collection that would pair well in a reading with Stephen Murray reading from House of Bees. Moreover, there are poems in The Ogre’s Wife that demonstrate Ron’s versatility as a writer; his knack of turning what could have easily just existed as an amusing anecdote into a poem that anyone can read and enjoy; poems that are as cheeky as they are true, like Advice to a Young Poet – “And for Christ’s sake no “opalesce”/ and fuck the fucking candlelight,”; something which has put him where he is: quite rightly, as Billy Collins observed, the wisest, most entertaining wiseguy in American poetry. And for that, I’m jealous.
A consistently strong themed collection is tough ask. It’s tough because you are expecting a lot of your reader to stay with you from the first few poems to the last. And not since Greg Delanty’s The Hellbox have I read such a faultlessly woven group until I got my hands on Billy Ramsell's latest collection from Dedalus Press; each poem speaking to the reader, coaxing replies such as “Yes, I’m guilty of that” or “I’ve been there too, Billy.” Technology, and, if you'll excuse the Terminator reference, the rise of the machines play a central role in threading these poems together - "The machines have entered the language, my love, entered us." In typical Ramsell style, poems (such as Memory House and Present Fears) begin in the abstract, carefully leading you into a dance with poetics, and not at all shying away from subjects and situations that other poets may feel are not yet ready for poetry. One of my favourite bits in this book is the movement from After-image to Copper Holt to Your call is important to us, the latter a brilliantly effective albeit disturbing amalgamation of the first two. I’m a sucker for good titles, I admit it, and The Architect’s Dream of Winter is hands down fantastic. And you read the book. You wonder. You savour. You think and anticipate. You come to Winter Static. You come to to the line a limitless crispness that would brook no thaw. You read it slowly and put the book down, terrified that there’s one more poem left that couldn’t possibly be better. This book is a honest eye cast over the world we now inhabit, and perhaps an alarming prophecy.