October 2010
A review of

Romey’s Order

by Atsuro Riley

Central question: What does the South Carolina Lowcountry sound like?
Number of poems, out of twenty-six, ending in iambic pentameter: twelve; Number of prose poems: fourteen; Website of poet reading his poems (highly recommended): atsuroaudio.org; Shortest poem in book, “Drift-Raft,” in its entirety: “Some nights, blank nothing: // The ice-box, milk-purling in the kitchen. / The eye-of-pine floorboards ticking, clicking, planking themselves cool.” Prizes won by author: Witter Bynner Fellowship Award from the Library of Congress, Pushcart Prize and Wood Prize; Representative line: “Shhhh is the center-sound —and her shelter hole— in Hi ro shi ma mushroom.”

In December of 2001, Atsuro Riley stepped onto the poetry scene, seemingly from out of nowhere, with a nearly perfected style. These were poems you would expect at the height of a poet’s career, poems in which previous efforts were transcended and everything mysteriously came together. Almost ten years later, Riley has released one of the most exciting and distinctive debut collections in years.

The main themes in Romey’s Order revolve around the essentials: family, food, birthplace, ethnicity, childhood exploration, and the natural world. Our guide is Romey, who, like Riley, is from the South Carolina Lowcountry, and who, also like Riley, is of mixed descent. Romey’s mother is Japanese and his father—usually shown with a bottle near at hand (and at one point seen “hounddog-digging buried half-pints from the woods”)—is Caucasian American. Romey is a sensitive, imaginative, sometimes scampish young boy. He observes, considers, and explores, and these experiences seem to “make sense” to the extent that they find articulation—especially articulation through the sounds and rhythms of language (more on that in a moment).

A book of perceptions, Romey’s Order is almost purely descriptive, the poems almost completely grounded in the sensory, the material. “Our (in-warped) wooden porch-door is kick-scarred and splintering,” Riley writes. “The hinges of it rust-cry and -rasp in time with every Tailspin-wind, and jamb-slap (and after-slap), and shudder.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

—Dominic Luxford

Dominic Luxford is poetry editor of the Believer.


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