In Edward Ragg’s poetry an extraordinary creative pressure is brought to bear on language to convey what ‘Note on Text’ calls the ‘silent messages / surrounding the truth of words’. These are poems which embrace the liminal margins of texts, without aping self-conscious postmodernist practice, to conjure ‘the insistent / gift of the unwritten’ (‘Waiver’). Thoughtful, honed and exact, the depths of Ragg’s reflections are matched by the delicacy and precision of his metaphorical language: ‘as if the sky was lit / with the nomenclature / of the vivid’ (‘The Taking of the Capital’). In poems that move from contemporary Beijing to Vancouver to rural England – or even Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley’ (‘Chateau Musar’) – the compelling force in operation is one that questions dichotomies. Rootedness and tradition do not so much vie with modernity, exemplified by the hectic pace of contemporary Chinese city life, but rather interweave with it, like cutting-edge architecture on ancient vine stocks, revealing a distinctive voice and vision. There are forces that are ‘…spent or / ebbing in the wind’ and others ‘that take’: ‘the force / of the offices and shipyards / and sheet metal’, or a ‘comprehending touch, / waltz of a woman’s hips’, the force of a poem that may represent ‘the minuscule we comprehend’. A Force That Takes introduces a vigorous new voice to poetry; a force to be reckoned with.
Perhaps the most important feature of Ragg’s poetry is the movement of strong enjambment that carries a feeling of thought taking place. Thoughts arrive by traversing space and overcoming the resistance constantly of the poem for a moment being suspended before acts of thinking determine a path. This is a very important aspect of contemporaneity despite the lack of pretentious avant-garde status. I want to note the lovely intricacy of the idea of portraiture in ‘Arriving On the Scene’ and the great love poem ‘If Only’ that personalizes purpose and possibility. – Charles Altieri