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by Charles P. Ries,
Review by: Kris Rued-Clark

Charles Ries has the heart of a storyteller, and
his latest chapbook, Odd, builds on the work of his
previous two chapbooks, even as it expands into new
directions.  Like a swimmer testing the water, he
seeks new avenues of inspiration, with an imagination
that sees souls as stars and pictures Mexico as a

Many characters people his poetry, some of whom
he encounters on his meanderings in Milwaukee and
Mexico and parts in between, others only he sees,
projected “against the movie screen/ God attached to
the backside of my eyeballs.”  In the single poem with
uncharacteristically short lines, Ries cautions us on
the need for patience, so that “even a leaf/
descending/ downward/ will shout/ words of/ wisdom.”
In spite of this advice, he seems more at home in an
urban setting, and writes with an unjaundiced yet not
unkind eye about the misfits and human oddities who
populate his home territory of Milwaukee.  In
“Watching A River Flow” he shows us  a bag lady with
neither contempt nor pity, but rather a willingness
not merely to look, but to see and to make us see what
we might otherwise miss.  “Bag lady dances near the
dumpster looking like/ a helium balloon.  She’s the
gravitational center/ of a plastic bag she wears for
warmth.  A planet/ stuffed full of bathroom tissue and
old newspapers.  She’s humming…something too. / In her
mind she hears a hit parade.” 

As a Wisconsin poet, Ries cannot avoid the topics
of snow and cold and the craving for spring.  But even
these subjects are seen freshly through his eyes.
The Moon Was January In Wisconsin,” turns into a
sweetly nostalgic romp in the backyard when children
were still sent outside to play in any weather, by
beleaguered mothers who needed time undisturbed to
prepare dinner.   Winter appears in a love poem, where
warmth is sacrificed upon the altar of fashion.  “I
love your mantric complaint about how hard it is/ to
dress well at 20 below zero in the midst of/ a
blizzard.  Yet refusing to compromise for the sake of
warmth instead sludging, steadfast,/ like an Armani
foot soldier through road salt,/ snow drifts and
sleet.  Saying, ‘some things/ will not be
compromised.’”  And  in “60 Degrees of Separation,”
spring, portrayed as the reawakening of passion after
a long winter’s sleep, has the gift of a typical
surprising Ries ending, in which “snow is sent running
under/ ground, and we are liberated from our/ long

His work is imbued with the Catholicism of his
childhood and the dabblings into Buddhism of someone
who came of age in the 1970’s.  Into this historic
perspective, one reads of his youth on a mink farm.
He tells of killing minks, and extends that to war, as
he confronts a draft board which questions his request
for status as a conscientious objector.  “Killing is
killing, ain’t it son?”  “If I could kill mink, why
not men?” 

Most lyrical when the source of his inspiration is
Mexico, his Latino identity is Carlos. Reading Octavio
Paz leads to stanzas like this: “Carlos blows into
Olivia’s ear a love whisper/ sending a waterfall of
kisses cascading out her/ mouth onto brown soil where
white flowers erupt.”

Ries writes with bewilderment and wonder of the
odd predicaments he finds himself in.  Perhaps in none
of his poems is he more baffled than in his love
poems.  He is a man who searches for love without
having a clue what it is.  “Valentine” as so many of
his poems, explores the vagaries of love,
acknowledging what a mystery it is, this desire of
heart, loin, and common paths walked.  In the end he
concludes, “It has been better to love.”   Yet in
“Schnook,” he confesses to being a lazy lover, too
lazy to commit, too lazy to break it off.   “Points of
  begins with a troubled love relationship and
ends questioning the nature of truth. “Truth is a
murky pond/ A beacon for the mystic/ And bacon for the

He finds his inspiration from many sources: a man
seated Buddha-like in a public toilet, the “erotic
geography” of Mexico, even the bar stool, which he
calls “the poet’s throne.”  He writes of waiting for
inspiration, “like a frog on a lily bad/ scanning the
sky for a fly to eat.”   “I like to disappear into my
head where it/ doesn’t cost much to be alone.”  And
we’re grateful to Charles Ries for opening the window
for us to share a glimpse into the world between his

Charles Ries is a troubadour for our times who
graces us with stories of the seemingly commonplace.
His work sings to us of love found and lost, of what
it means to be a man  journeying upon the earth at
this moment.  He weaves a spell, retracing the paths
of angels who have descended into perplexing
circumstances, but who nevertheless shine with the
divinity of the everyday.  Having been brought up
Catholic, Ries resides comfortably in the realm of
angels; and yet he treads the world of ordinary
conundrums equally well.  His work shines with what it
means to be human, reflecting upon and transcending
the reality in which he lives.

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