Atsuro Riley grew up in South Carolina and lives in California. His heavily stressed, percussive, consonant-rich, free-verse poems conjure up the elemental images of the lives of people inhabiting a specific, acutely portrayed landscape. His poems are dense with impressions, voices and glimpses of people who have experienced the Vietnam War, rural life, and the South. Though grounded in a world that seems unmistakably North American, the poems’ rich Anglo-Saxon textures are reminiscent of the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Basil Bunting.
His work has been published in Poetry, the Threepenny Review and The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets (2007), and has been featured on Poetry Daily. He has received a Witter Bynner Award, a Pushcart Prize, the J. Howard and M.J. Wood Prize from Poetry magazine, and grants from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. His first collection of poetry, Romey’s Order, is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press in 2010.
Many of the themes in Riley’s work come from his boyhood in the South. In ‘Strand’, Riley recalls building a rabbit hutch with his father, being in the kitchen as his mother cooked biscuits and the smells of “Grass-sweat. Gnat lotion,/ neckwise. Ghost-whiffs of GOOP for gunky hands.” Riley is constructing memories, and the details are so vivid that it makes the experience of reading his poems a visceral one.
Riley’s approach is unconventional, both in style and appearance. What the reader might notice first is the heavy use of hyphens. In ‘Picture’ they appear one after the other: “The hinges of it rust-cry and -rasp in time with/ every Tailspin-wind, and jamb-slap (and after-slap), and shudder.” This, combined with the use of onomatopoeia (“rasp”, “slap” and “shudder”), creates a rhythm. Much of the percussive qualities found in Riley’s writing also come from his use of rhyme, alliteration and assonance. “Trolling and trawling and crawfishing and crabbing” he writes in ‘Map’, while these lines, from ‘O’, follow the same pattern: “No plaque of heated iron scathes/ (Nor noose, nor knives)/ Articulated scapes arise.” The rhythm built into his poems complements their impressionistic nature, and the result is a patchwork of images as challenging to navigate as it is rewarding.
Romey’s Order, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010
Atsuro Riley’s website with audio recordings
Atsuro Riley’s page on the Poetry Foundation website