Some authors compel you to recommend their books to friends. Others you forget relatively quickly. For a book to enter the hallowed halls of a classic, almost never happens. Composition of a Woman is such a book.
In forty years’ time, I’ll be asking people to read this. I won’t pack this book when I move for fear of losing it, I’ll put it in my bag. It’s a collection that has more than staying power, it’s entered our collective consciousness and become one of the books you list alongside other classics and one day I guarantee this book will be listed among the very best poetry written. Though Ray may feel personally trapped by her physical constraints she is actually anything but, through the sheer will of her wordage. If she loses any of her physical grip, she seems to regain that loss in terms of her writing fluency.
How do I know? I read poetry for a living, there’s indifferent poetry, good poetry, exciting poetry and then there’s a poet. The poet breathes and her words become. It’s a transformative exercise that appears effortless but is anything but. The poet opens her chest, removes her ribs, reaches in and extracts the very marrow of herself. In this process, she becomes unforgettable. Christine E. Ray is such a poet. Whether discussing Fibromyalgia’s egregious hold over her body, her fear of failure, or the determination to feel passion, Ray’s voice is impossible to smother, she’s far too stubborn and talented.
Am I biased in my appraisal? If anything, I hold Ray to a higher standard because of what I know of her as a publisher. She’s got education, life experience, and wicked smarts which when put together created a literal powerhouse. As a writer she’s far less intimidating than she is when she edits and compiles award-winning anthologies, she’s able to throw herself into the ring, set the glaring lights and say ‘go on then, take a look and yes that scares the hell out of me but I’m going to let you anyway.’ That’s damn gutsy, a little crazy and magnificent all at once. But if she didn’t have the gravitas and sheer talent to back up her own poetry, we’d be polite and just nod our heads, we wouldn’t lean into her words like they were a drug and breathe deeply.
Ray’s work has always grasped me tightly around the throat, she holds on, she doesn’t let go. Her courage as a writer and the alacrity of her talent, leaves me wordless at times, and although she will lament her energies are not what they used to be, she has the creative zeal you rarely see in poets, where despite any set-back she continues to produce, high-quality astounding work time and again. For every legitimate struggle Ray has experienced, physically or emotionally, and perhaps because of this, she’s created a state that is quite the opposite of being numb.
Intensely female, Ray could be the closest to a laurate for females we’re going to find in this generation and as such, her ideas, the lengths she goes to express her truth, are breathtaking and never fail to diminish lesser works. That’s what you get when you are in the presence of a real talent, someone who blows you away each and every time, seemingly excavating electricity from nothing. If you ever considered a female weak, read a few lines of Ray and you’ll soon be corrected. This is so much more than a list of sufferings and experiences; this is the root of womanhood.
Most female writers I know personally, wish they had half the originality and momentum Ray has as a creative. Her reach is far, her words are velvet and the allure of her force leaves you vibrating with her presence. If I could buy one collection of poetry for all those, I know who love poetry I’d purchase Ray’s work every time. Her passion, focus and willingness to expose the beating meat of her soul, claims her throne as unforgettable and irreplaceable. Realizing control is an illusion Ray has bequeathed us the greater gift, her elemental truth. “When I turned 50 / I was considered obsolete” (Bad Feminist). Fortunately for us, Ray’s never been one to listen to small talk.
Candice Louisa Daquin of French Egyptian heritage moved from France to America and has worked and lived in the American SouthWest as a Psychotherapist and Writer since. Her work can be found at TheFeatheredSleep .