Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jay Ritchie, Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie


At the end of the year with my bags asking to be let in to the present. Single-family detached homes with comparable square footage curve gradually with the cul-de-sac, as usual. Did you see the addition to the business park? Nothing hurts like not being in on the joke. My friends tell me I have a tendency to distance myself from friends, which is troubling. Walking home involved a Walmart, an overpass, a business park, real estate, a Catholic elementary school, and a cosmic sense of purpose determined by faulty or burnt-out street lamps. This is how I remember it: I learned geometry from rooftops. I might carry my laptop onto the back deck in the morning with a cup of coffee and consider how a rainbow’s favourite high is gasoline. I might be closer to what I was walking toward and further from where I wanted to be. I’m unsure if the leaves are a part of the plan. Airport security said, The easiest way out is to look for an entrance.

Montreal writer Jay Ritchie’s first full-length poetry title is Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2017), an immediate and self-aware collection of first-person lyrics. The author of the poetry chapbook How to Appear Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside (Montreal QC: Metatron, 2014) and the short story collection Something You Were, Might Have Been, or Have Come to Represent (London ON: Insomniac, 2014), the poems in his Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie shift and shimmy from straightforward to dreamy to surreal. His poems are an intriguing blend of description and abstract, moving easily between thought and activity, simultaneously a part of the world and a witness, as the poem “AUGUST SLOUGH” opens: “I did not go with the rest of the class / to see the meteor shower. // It happened anyway.” There is both disillusionment and epiphany throughout Ritchie’s poems, one that comes from, as the back cover suggests, an “alternating sense of wonder and detachment,” and one that shifts and evolves throughout the collection. The title shows the author/narrator’s uncertainty, and the poems explore both an engagement and distrust with the outside world, articulating an inner life of great complexity, concern and angst. One of the finest poems of the collection has to be “DUMB BODY,” writing a fine line across multiple actions, a through-line against the collage, both moored and unmoored to the real world. As he writes at the end:

I was trying to engender gold
in the shape of a time and place.
May something, two thousand something,

when I was moored to distance.
Contact was as thrilling as the fear
that I was having a general experience.

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