Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray

He Will Laugh traces the intense love between two young men. From the excitement of their first meeting to the aftermath of a tragic suicide, the speaker searches for grace and understanding amid his grief and the wealth of memory that remains.
He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray begins with the end. After reading that first gripping poem I dare anyone not to keep reading, as it is almost immediately apparent that this little book is more than a poetry collection, it is a contemporary story of love found and lost written in prose.

In the aftermath of his lover Issac's suicide the narrator takes the reader through a journey. From that first meeting to its tragic conclusion, through prose, Ray is relentless in wringing out emotion from the reader. He does so magnificently by conveying grief, the devastation of loss, sensuality, joy, frustration, and finally bittersweet understanding and closure.

This 82 page collection is divided into three sections, Now, Then and Time Unredeemable. Each section is introduced by a poem that sets the tone for that particular section. A hunting, sorrowful poem that in the end also brings closure, "November 8" serves as the perfect introduction to the first section, Now.

Now recounts the present events and the grief and loss that the narrator experiences after his young lover dies. "Salo" is one of the most gripping poems in this section, as the narrator recalls Isaac's appreciation for Pasolini's film Salò and begins by describing the scene at the end of the film and ends the poem by describing Isaac's suicide and the narrator's regrets. However, from "Get that in Writing," to "How We Grieve," and from "Still" to "You say, There's nothing special about 20" [...Call me Hadrian. Antinous, his lover, died at 20, and Hadrian deified him a daemon of arts, like Pan and Bacchus...], the poetry in this first section makes a deep, strong impact on the reader.

Then begins with a poem that says it all with its title, "Find the Precedent in Childhood." This section addresses the past, the joy of that first meeting, the sensuality, passion and yearning of a lover, as well as the frustrations that came with the long term relationship between the narrator and young, troubled Isaac. Some of my favorite poems are found in this section, as our narrator goes from sublime happiness to depths of despair as the relationship's reaches its inevitable conclusion.

In Time Unredeemable the poet ends with one single poem that captures the present, the past and the "what ifs," or all those possibilities that will never be realized, "Chaconne for Neuroses." And yet, at this time, at the end, I returned to the beginning and ended my reading experience with the first poem, November 8. I kept coming back to that one poem, possibly because I find it to be such a complete piece.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ray's prose in He Will Laugh is that it is both distinctly contemporary and yet it manages to convey the rather timeless flavor found in works by poets throughout the ages. He uses musical and religious allegations, Greek and Roman historical figures, and often cites the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, while mixing popular figures like John Waters and other cinematographic figures and classic films in his poetry. His prose is lyrical and prosaic, contemporary and classic, quite an arresting combination. Certainly the timeless yearning, joy and grief that comes of love found and lost are well rendered.

The outcome is that I cried and grieved with this lover who lost, felt his immense joy at finding love, as well as his anger and frustration, and yes... fell a little in love with Isaac too. He Will Laugh is a magnificent debut by Douglas Ray and this poetry collection with it's particularly poignant and relevant view of the contemporary gay man's experience is a must read. Highly recommended.

Here are excerpts from two of my favorite poems.

❁❁❁❁❁❁
This is the day the gates to the underworld
open [...]

Remember your name, the miracle
of laughter. Bring pleasure to the sad gods,
though you leave this world to grieve,
to replace your intricate streams of blood
with methanol and formaldehyde.
                  November 8 (excerpt - page 11)

❁❁❁ 
You are a symphony, love, stretched
from clef to double-line, which summons
silence. Your feet, placed apart neatly,
consonant as thirds, each toe nimble,
articulate enough to play a tocatta complex
as Widor's.
                Sight Reading (excerpt - page 38)
❁❁❁❁❁❁


About the Author: Douglas Ray teaches at Indian Springs School, a boarding and day school in Birmingham, Alabama. He received his B.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Mississippi.

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Category: LGBT Poetry
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/February 2012
Source: Lethe Press
Grade: A-

5 comments:

  1. I have a feeling this would leave me in tears. The excerpt from Sight Reading was beautiful - I could all but see it!

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  2. Alex, there's an outpouring of grief in this book that is heartbreaking, however there's also so much love and healing closure as well. It's beautiful.

    Orannia, yes. I know I did. Sight Reading is gorgeous, and there are other poems that are just as beautiful. I loved this little book. :)

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  3. Hey Ames! It's intense, lovely and relevant. Excellent prose. I really like that it's contemporary, and how the whole book just flows like a story beginning with the present and then giving the reader the back story by flashing back to the beginning of the relationship.

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