Christine E. Ray’s Composition of a Woman invites readers to see what a woman is truly made of
“Betrayal is an inside job” writes poet Christine E. Ray in her debut Composition of a Woman, which will be released July 31st by Sudden Denouement Press. Ray, who unabashedly displays her “inner badass” on her blog Brave & Reckless, is no new-comer to the indie writing scene. Careful contemplation went into the organization and creation of this volume, and as such, it speaks to Ray’s decades of experience in writing, years spent editing in the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, and curating in the writer collectives she helped to found, Go Dog Go Café and Indie Blu(e). In poems strung together like delicate bones, Ray has crafted a personal story that sometimes hinges on the idea of betrayal, but also on the inner strength of a woman finding love even as she has found loss, finding her voice in spite of being told she is less than. The trajectory follows an atlas of human form, from nerve to blood, in which she describes a relationship to her body, to her thoughts, to her womanhood, to her writer’s existence. I was taken in (admittedly in part by my own fondness for the poetics of muscle and bone) from the first poem, by words and phrasing that hang on themselves gracefully in their simplicity while conveying a multitude of emotions.
The imperative of a poet is often to unveil some hidden kernel of human nature or experience and attempt to imbue it with feelings that are difficult to translate into words. To be an interpreter whose words reassure the readers that every experience is exquisitely unique and yet relatable. In this, Ray succeeds, especially in the sections “Nerve” and “Blood”.
“Nerve” shows us the confusion, frustration and uncertainty of strange physical symptoms and the process of medical diagnosis. Ray explores such subject matter with an underlying layer of humor, good-natured exasperation at the disloyalty of hips that creak and mouths that swear to reveal hidden pain. In the poem “My Right Foot,” she informs us that “my right foot went on strike/declaring that unsafe working conditions…/made continuing unacceptable”. The body eventually cooperates, even if petulantly, but most certainly amusingly: “my right foot…sulked the rest of the way home/damn ungrateful foot.”
And in “Blood,” Ray openly and strongly addresses society’s expectations of girls and women. Although her poems draw from common characterizations of women like sugar and spice, the Virgin, the Mother, the Crone, and Lilith, they are still fresh through her voice. In “Stepping off the Spiral Path” Ray declares “I reject the title crone…I refuse the mantle/of invisibility…I choose instead my naked soul”. The extraction of this soul through words in “Lost Voice” requires the revelation of a “…truth so deeply hidden/that you must dive inside/hand to elbow buried into slippery entrails/to reach it”.
As I read Composition of a Woman I marveled at Ray’s ability to strike at the most tender of places in such an unassuming way. True, there are many moments in which her voice roars, but as she brought the book to a close, I was left with a quiet simmering warmth. It is this warmth that moved me throughout; traversing “Nerve” and “Brain” and “Breast” and “Rib” to finally settle in “Blood”. Just as poetry is more than just words on a page, more than the sum of its well-placed allusions or expertly crafted metaphors, so too is a woman more than just the body she lives in. In this book, Ray demonstrates just how much more.
Composition of a Woman is available at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca (Canada), Amazon Australia, Amazon Europe ( Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es,) as well as other major retailers.
Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at http://www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.