John Ryan’s The Sound of Falling Snow is a poignant collection of 110 free-verse poems that moves recursively through images of winter landscapes. Against this seasonal backdrop—the pages are sprinkled with snowflakes—the book’s speaker struggles to focus on his appreciation of natural beauty and pursuit of happiness without yielding to his personal experience of depression, loneliness, and encroaching mortality. He also writes about his love of literature, with many poems devoted to the challenges and rewards of the writing process.
Ryan’s poems are authentic and intelligent but not yet crafted as sensory evocations of experience. They read as explicit statements of thoughts, feelings, and memories, written more like a diarist than an author attending to his audience’s need for imagery. For example, he writes: “In younger years/ I loved my Labrador,” and “Inner peace I pray for every day./ Frustration grows/ Inside as I compose.” When Ryan references a sensory experience such as “The smell of roasted coffee/ Beans in my coffee shop,” he concludes with abstract/cerebral language: “Is pure delight just now.” More concrete/visceral details would better engage readers.
The Sound of Falling Snow is haunted by two significant traumas: the death of the speaker’s sister and a rape he experienced in his workplace. Both clearly wounded this speaker deeply. He states, “My triplet sister Anne, one cold January/ Day you departed from this life, and we/ Never said good-bye” and “One day at work a young man/ Raped me savagely. I’ve never/ Been the same since then.” Unfortunately, references to these painful events are always fleeting, never plumbed in depth or directly connected with the speaker’s assessment of himself as “a troubled spirit” or “tormented soul.”
As is, the collection serves more as a personal reckoning than a text crafted for a wider readership. By translating his valid and complex emotions into more imagistic language, however, the author could more effectively mine this rich material and draw readers into his work.
Also available as an ebook.