Richard Rooke’s accomplished Ready to Dance delivers startling, original imagery and fresh insights as it explores the natural world and a range of human emotions, meditating on a full gamut of experiences—from the awakening of love to the awareness of mortality.
Rooke’s poetry is characterized by its fine attention to concrete detail, engaging reader’s senses with such effective imagery as “[a] tin bucket banging”; “slanted loops of blue ink”; “amber liquid/ arctic to the touch”; “cold fish writhing/ as they thaw,” and “Dark mud/ undulating/ like lily pads.” The author knows how to show rather than tell and how to implicate readers physically in his poem-scapes.
He also knows how to deliver moments of rich and incisive reflection interspersed with the images, such as “I am always surprised/ that the sweet red stew/ tastes like itself,/ and not the earth mould/ of barn or field” and “Memory dips and swerves/ to a kind of ordered knowing;/ a bitten fingernail/ of understanding.”
A full-length poetry collection, by industry standards, is a minimum of 48 pages. This book has at least that many pages of successful poems, including the impressive “The Horse Follower” and “Radishes.” Pieces Rooke might consider omitting include those that employ end-rhyme, which creates a sing-song effect more reminiscent of greeting card verse than sophisticated fare, and those poems that turn prosaic or default to clichés; for example: “Dislocated from home,/ friends, family,/ race, and culture”; “He felt lonely, withdrawn,/ isolated, insignificant,” and “He felt secure, warm, safe, loved.”
Overall, however, Rooke treats readers to an invigorating vocabulary and style of image-making that includes wonderfully visceral, oracular lines, such as “rattle incessantly/ with dream language static” and “Dissolve me, twig and thorn,/ into a crystal clarity.” Such fine moments make Ready to Dance a resonant and lively collection of poems — one that deserves a wide and attentive audience.
Also available as an ebook.