Monday, February 28, 2011
Romey's Order review
Poetry, at its most basic, is about language. It’s about sound and picture and rhythm and feeling and transport. The sounds and rhythm of the language create pictures and feelings that transport readers to places and times good and bad, easy and difficult. Such feeling and transport is hard to find in much of the poetry being written and published today. Sometimes, readers are rewarded and it sneaks in from the most unexpected places. In Romey’s Order, Atsuro Riley uses ordinary words to take readers on a rollicking ride, full of twists and turns and darkness. His mastery of onomatopoeia, diction, and verb choice, though, make it one of the best rides around. Told from the point of view of a young, Southern, Asian-American boy just after Vietnam, Romey’s Order shows the reader the not-for-tourists lowcountry, full of hard lives and hard love.
Made-up words, strung together words, childhood words, these are the bits that make up the picture Riley creates. The childhood voice of the speaker leaps out in lines like: "There was a trestle that carried the train that trusted the trestle that bridged/ the river that cooled the fish that fed the boy that watched the trestle that/ slow-cankered and -rusted and fell" from “Polaroid.” The familiarity of the repetition is reminiscent of the children’s ditty about the hole in the bottom of the ocean, but that’s where the similarity stops. Romey’s Order thrusts the reader into a world filled with county fairs and cast iron skillets and muddy rivers, which may sound comforting and pastoral, but this world is as gritty as the Carolina mud, make no mistake about that.
These poems, with all their grit and hard consonants, want to be read out loud. They want to be shared across the room, across the car during a road trip. They call out to the reader to remember, rethink, rejoice in whatever life gives.