20 January 2010

thought-fish by Ruan Wright

by Ruan Wright
Moon Journal Press, 2009.

Reviewed by Emily Scudder

thought-fish. If the title isn't intriguing enough, then the cover art seals the deal. You can hardly help yourself – the color, the geometry, this ethereal woman ascending to where? Who cares! The design by Moon Press Journal, the cover illustration by the poet Ruan Wright herself, establishes a mood – experimental, optimistic, unique.

Recently I read a publisher’s lament that out of 50 chapbook contest finalists, over 20 of the manuscripts were almost indistinguishable, lacked a distinctive “voice.” The poems seemed workshopped to death - rough edges smoothed, loose ends tightened, exclamations muted. A poet gives something up when toning down, but this is not Wright’s problem.

Ruan Wright gives up nothing! “Oh Earth! Give way and let me in…” Wright exclaims in the opening line of her poem titled “Insomnia.” She illustrates her four yoga poems – “Balasana,” “Dandasana,” “Shavasana,”” Tadasana.” She shapes and breaks lines to her own liking, steps into a male chauvinist’s shoes, then drops a dead sparrow on your doorstep – stunning and still. After each poem I had absolutely no idea what was coming next. Two playful short poems appear. Why? Because they do.


In my dreams
I’m a cat
and lithe
with nine
each of them

thought-fish is no New Age Yoga poetry collection, yet it does have something of that eclectic feel. I almost found myself looking for a yoga CD tucked inside the back cover, but the thought vanished when Mary and Jesus appeared. The few poems deeply based in the Christian tradition strengthen the contemplative grain of the whole collection rather than disrupt. “Worm” is one of Wright’s best, and for anyone who has ever sat in a childhood Sunday School class and wondered exactly what it meant when instructed “Jesus died for our sins,”- it’s a flashback, skillfully carried forward.


Was it the lie I told in Fourth Grade,
That saved my skin, but gave Clyde hell –
Is that the sin you saved me from?

Or the time I told Mum I’d cleaned my teeth
But hadn’t – she must have known,
She always did – was that the one?

Or the lie I tell myself each day
That I am OK and everyone else is wrong
Or just as bad, so it’s all the same?

So what’s next? How about board games? “We Played Monopoly” and “Tiddlywinks” take us right into Wright’s childhood in 1960s England. Her direct language, not folksy but comforting nevertheless, mirrors the nostalgia of rainy days stuck inside a grandmother’s house, or the reassurance of worn 500 pound notes, game-money hoarded and counted. Mostly, Wright reminds us why any of this matters at all. It is what good poets do.


Do you remember how we played
Monopoly the long days of summer?
You were always the racing car,
I was always the flat iron, ….

And does it matter if you don’t remember?

Well, yes,
it does now,
now that our childhood home is gone
along with our parents,
and our childish selves are buried
under the dirt of so many years of work
and child rearing and
trying not to go bankrupt or end up in jail.

For all her play and unpredictability, there is a pervasive quietude throughout thought-fish that weights it. Remember the woman on the cover? Look again. She seems to ascend unencumbered. To do so requires an interior launch pad, confident and known. Annie Dilliard’s book title “Holy the Firm” comes to mind and easily describes a place Wright herself seems to inhabit. Each poem is a bit of this world – reeled in. thought-fish.