cover image Crisis Actor

Crisis Actor

Declan Ryan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-61189-7

Ryan layers his finely crafted debut collection with precise, nostalgic, and striking poems that probe the past and present. His verse shines in sonically rich descriptions: “Last of the nectar days, hind-end of the country,/ the afternoon readying itself to make excuses/ and leave us to our unslept dishevelment./ Some nameless river goes by; the sun makes brilliant hoops/ from tarnished glasses” (“Mayfly”). The title sequence is written in memory of Ian Hamilton and borrows from interviews with the writer as the speaker faces his own reckoning. It opens, “The sullen years feeling righteously combative,/ a stirred-up need for mission, a rage against the pros,/ taking each line personally.” Ryan complicates a catalog of images with candor: “the self-produced, self-published oxblood books;/ the ‘semi-literate phase’, the beer before the launch/ to this already being the best of it, but still unsatisfied;/ the wanting people who wouldn’t give my parents/ the time of day to owe me favours.” He describes in the poem’s first stanza “some playacting impulse hovering among the bargain bins,” which contrasts and complements the italicized second stanza, “It can’t be overestimated, the impact that had, what he thought masculinity was, what it meant to be a man.” The sequence ends gorgeously: “‘It’s all about goodbyes, or being late.../ I know that you won’t let me call it love.’” These poems are full of humanity, rewarding insights, and affective phrases. (Feb.)