In Shann Ray’s collection, Balefire, one senses always the poet’s tender regard for family as well as the forces of nature that flesh, flame, and fray each human relationship.
—Sandra Alcosser, A Fish to Feed All Hunger
Shann Ray brings to American poetry a voice that is at once rugged and unapologetically vulnerable. In these poems, Ray writes with the same incisive eye that has won him so much praise for his fiction, but with an even sharper ear. Like any decent bluesman, Shann knows when to wail, when to whisper, and when to let the silences do their own damn work. Here, folks, is an able and true ‘vessel for the song of this world.’
—John Murillo, Up Jump the Boogie
From tenderness to violence, to something impossible to name, Shann Ray offers his readers a new kind of lyric. These poems stand as chiseled testaments to the heart’s survival; from a father’s fists like windmills to a wife’s surprising power. This marvelous collection is filled with spare poems that accrue and steadily grow into knowledge—the kind of knowledge that tastes of blue spruce and rough-hewed redemption. A riveting poetic debut.
—Susan Rich, The Alchemist’s Kitchen
A celebration of the intricacies of love. Shann Ray’s Balefire is visionary—a powerful and moving visit to the places that haunt us.
—Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red
It is tempting to call Shann Ray his generation’s heir to the literary legacy of Richard Hugo and James Welch, except that he writes from a largeness of spirit all his own. The poems in his debut volume, Balefire, resonate with emotional and sensual precision. They compel us to inhabit lives—of the despondent, the brutal, the selfish and disloyal—from which we are too eager to turn, too ready to dismiss as incapable of humanity and unworthy of grace. Ray teaches us, or perhaps more hopefully reminds us, better. These wise, tender, sober, luminous poems range over landscapes at turns stark and vast, then lush and intimate to find the heart’s domesticity in wilderness, its wildness in home.
—Jonathan Johnson, Mastedon, 80% Complete
Shann Ray’s new collection of poems is an exhibit of portraits; surfaces of the paintings are at the same time tender, violent, intimate and mythic. Layered behind these figures is the vista of the monumental Montana sky. The landscape invades upon our deeper selves; and the portraits invite us into a familial conversation. Somehow, despite the pain and sorrow, we are allowed to bask in the expanse of the azurite sky.
—Makoto Fujimura, Refractions
About the Author
Shann Ray has served as a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, a research psychologist for the Centers for Disease Control, a panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Research Division, and a visiting scholar in the Netherlands, the Philippines, Canada, South Africa, and Colombia. His collection of stories, American Masculine, named by Esquire for their Three Books Every Man Should Read series and selected by Kirkus Reviews as a Best Book, won the Bakeless Prize, the High Plains Book Award, and the American Book Award. Sherman Alexie said Ray’s work is “tough and beautiful” and Dave Eggers called it “lyrical, prophetic, and brutal, yet ultimately hopeful.” Shann’s creative nonfiction book of leadership and political theory, Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity, sheds light on the nature of categorical human transgressions and engages the question of ultimate forgiveness in the context of ultimate violence. He is the winner of the Subterrain Poetry Prize, the Crab Creek Review Fiction Award, the Poetry Quarterly Poetry Prize, the Pacific Northwest Inlander Short Story Award and the Ruminate Short Story Prize. His work has appeared in some of the nation’s leading literary venues including Poetry, McSweeney‘s, Narrative, and Northwest Review. Shann grew up in Montana and spent part of his childhood on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. He lives with his wife and three daughters, in Spokane, Washington where he teaches leadership and forgiveness studies at Gonzaga University.
IN THE NEW COUNTRY
Hordes of men struck down, destroyed, sunken form of skin and skeleton, bare cloth matted to torso, bodycage and hipbone, face and neck darkened, bloated to black, rain the endless dream stuck fast in the stone-dead skull and blood a fine sheen over all, arms and legs entwined, a severed hand, eyes dull white opals half-bled from orbital bones, grey earth below and stink in the air and the near cry of predator birds, birds of unbearable hunger, the sodden smell of open wounds, a flock of day raven far above, black, and in the blackness light, black sky with stars and moon like fires defined wholly apart from one another and only darkness in between, mute beacons, and cold. The sun has gone and there is near silence after seven days of fighting, and in the quiet only the caw of birds and the faint word, like a child’s, of those whose breath, impatient, labored, severed, stops and takes leave to await them in spirit or etherworld, blood echo on the air, agony awaiting peace on the other side.