Sunday, November 20, 2005

by David Ray, 2004, Howling Dog Press

Leave aside the question of whether art can change the world. There are times when the world, being what it is, demands the artist’s attention and involvement. To not speak to certain pressing injustices raises questions about an artist’s sincerity, presence of mind, perhaps even his or her sanity.
David Ray’s DEATH OF SARDANAPULIS is a 240 page volume of well-crafted poetry. Ray’s book is also a scalpel with which to excise the bullshit and spin that permeates even the few media outlets left that still adhere to standards of journalistic objectivity.
In “The Homeric Proportions” Ray says of George W. Bush:

When he mocked another Born Again
Christian for begging for her life just

before her execution, we should
have noted what we were dealing with--

Ray’s is not a carping, negative voice. He also offers the reader moral wisdom. In “Friends” he says:

Bill Stafford called the world Friend,
and that’s the right attitude for sure.

But it is Ray’s moral outrage and refusal to look away that brings the poem to its close:

but it takes some doing on a day when

the front page is devoted to full-color,
a father holding his bleeding son in his arms

as he cries to the sky, Why? Why?
in a language no one bothers to translate.

Ray’s poetry brings us the news we won’t find on the 6 o’clock broadcasts. He tells us Colin Powell, trying to sell the Iraq invasion to the UN, had the Guernica that hung in the background draped while he was being interviewed, not wanting Picasso’s powerful depiction of the truth about war to counter the Bush Administration hype. In “A Captivity Narrative” he tells of the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch and says:

Yet it was an Iraqi doctor who risked

his life and trudged across the desert
to summon her rescuers--

But when it comes to myth making
the truth must not stand in the way

even when the heroine objects.
We like to stick to the classic formulas

David Ray’s THE DEATH OF SARDANAPALUS is a beautifully bound book. It features a full color center fold-out of Delacroix’s famous painting of the same name. It is a book that belongs on the shelf of every poetry lover and every enlightened, “reality-based “ person. It is available from HOWLING DOG PRESS (www.

Richard Wilhelm, Ibbetson Update, Nov. 2005

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