Ravenous: New & Selected Poems by Rick Mulkey provides new and returning readers an opportunity to consider recent and previously published work in a collection containing wide stylistic variety with deep unifying themes and concerns. From an 18th Century Persian village to the porches and homestead’s of the Appalachian South, these poems counterpoint the sorrowful with the joyful, exploring how “even in the soul’s grim mines, one tuned string/perfectly plucked could make us believe all would be right.”
Rick Mulkey is the author of four previous poetry collections, including Toward Any Darkness, Before the Age of Reason, and Bluefield Breakdown. Individual poems and essays have appeared in a variety of periodicals such as Crab Orchard Review, Denver Quarterly, The Literary Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East, Shenandoah, and Southern Poetry Review, and his work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including American Poetry: the Next Generation, The Southern Poetry Anthology: Volumes I and II, and A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry, among others. He has received a Hawthornden Fellowship and The Literary Review’s Charles Angoff Award, among others. Mulkey has taught at universities and writing workshops in the United States and Europe, and he currently directs the low residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Converse College.
It’s easy to joke about a book titled Ravenous that includes poems titled “Hunger Ghazal,” “Belly,” “Desire,” and “Omnivorous.” But Rick Mulkey’s collection of over two decades of poetry has large appetites in the best and most serious of ways, with poems that embrace an 18th-century Persian village, the 19th-century drawing room of Fanny Mendelssohn, Orson Welles’s famous Mars invasion hoax, and good ol’ guitar and banjo plunkin’ on the porches of West Virginia. What makes these poems cohere, of course, is a consistent desire to get the words perfect, and a deep compassion for the rough corners of our human condition: for “the body’s betrayal” of its original promise, for “the two a.m. face of the waitress rising/over a steaming pot of boiling beans.”
Rick Mulkey’s Ravenous: New & Selected Poems is as beautiful an exploration you’ll ever encounter about “that empty hole/ we live our lives filling.” Populated with the cosmos and the red velvet mite, with the present day South and nineteenth-century Berlin, Mulkey’s poems hunger for big truths, little truths, love and justice. Ravenous offers readers over two decades worth of Mulkey’s work in one volume, the more recent poems echoing and complicating the mysteries of earlier ones, all infused with the inscrutability of our existence. Mulkey’s irresistible American vernacular, visceral wisdom, and lyrical honesty make him one of the most authentic poetic voices of his generation.
In Rick Mulkey’s deft circling of circumstance and subtle shifts in and out of light and shadow, the daily, the sacramental, and the imaginative beautifully merge. His is a world that appears, disappears, and reappears in new guises. Our own lives will be illuminated by these fine, perceptive poems.
The presence of a vanishing landscape is everywhere in this work, the Appalachian country that poet Rick Mulkey calls home. These poems make manifest the belief that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical one, and at times of intense poetic inquiry, as in such poems as “Bluefield Breakdown,” that landscape reveals itself in all its power and pathos.”
—Kathryn Stiripling Byer