The Flapper Press Poetry Café: The Poetry of Ron Riekki
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets from around the world. This week, we highlight the work of Ron Riekki.
Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors Are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press). Riekki has edited eight books, including Here (Michigan State University Press, Independent Publisher Book Award) and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book). Right now, Riekki’s listening to Maria Callas' version of "O Mio Babbino Caro."
We reached out to Ron to ask about his work, influences, and his love of music.
Meet Ron Riekki!
AN: Elizabeth Gracen has shared that, “Much the way that music impacts my life in a deep, meaningful way, I feel that poetry comes as close to touching the essence of an emotion or thought as the truth of the moment.” Ron, in what ways does your poetry have a connection with music?
RR: I'm a bit of a music addict. I pretty much always write while listening to music. Right now, I keep playing Wet Leg's "Chaise Lounge" live version and Fat White Family's "Whitest Boy on the Beach" and Idles' "Great" on repeat. Oh, and The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" and Car Seat Headrest's "Uncontrollable Urge" live version. And, basically, all of Explosions in the Sky. I was just eating pizza with the writer Alex Vartan Gubbins, and he was saying how important sound is in poetry, how he can't read poetry if it doesn't have good "sound." So I guess I try to get some sound into my body when I'm writing. Whenever I submit writing, I like to put in my bio what band/song I was listening to as I wrapped up writing that poem or story or whatever. I think the coolest thing in the world is when a band works poetry into their music, like Sheryl Crow with Michigan's Wyn Cooper or Lou Reed with Edgar Allan Poe or even like Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter's Oscar-winning film about Ron Koertge's "Negative Space." I love adaptations of poetry and collaborations and hybrid and all that kinda stuff. As well as simply just inspiration. I really dig when poems start off with a dedication to or a quote from another poet. I like to do that.
AN: In some ways we feel here in the Flapper Press Poetry Café that creatively we've placed an invitation to share one’s poetry into a bottle and tossed it out to sea, waiting to see who will find it and decide to join us. So we are grateful that you found us and also curious to learn how.
RR: You were listed in the back of the Pushcart Prize anthology this year. I liked the name Flapper Press. I was head-over-heels for this one girl who dumped me because I wasn't "Christian enough" for her, and I remember she was doing research on 1920s flappers when we broke up, and I'd never even heard of them until that breakup, so the word "flapper" has had this odd sort of heartbreak for me.
AN: Our family and place of origin impact our experiences, and thus our writing.
Might you share how this is true for your work?
RR: Wow. That's a really difficult question. I don't know what to say. It's so huge. I'll just say that I have nomadic blood. In two years of undergraduate college studies, I switched colleges every semester. Not each year. Each semester I'd switch to a new university. So I guess my writing tends to be set all over the place because I've lived all over the place. And I like to read poetry that's set all over the place. So I tend to be really diverse in who I read—although I've tended to be reading writers where we follow each other on Twitter, so people like Sally Brunk and L.A. Poet Laureate Lynne Thompson and Beth Gordon and Daniel Lukes and Suzanne S. Rancourt and Rachel Deering and Tom C. Hunley and a whole ton more. I like saying the names of writers. I think you have a bit of magic in you if you're a writer. Seriously.
This poem was written while listening to Portishead's "Glory Box."
I Play Basketball During the Blizzard
because I’m not going to let the terrorists win.
The snow arches my wrists like Jesus, but I am
not going to let climate change stop us. I dunk
and hang on the rim, letting myself swing to
a stop, because if I don’t the ice is hungry for
my bodies. And I can’t see any of the houses
nearby, the death of the white-out so strong
that it owns the grass and air and its lungs.
If I try to dribble, snowbank eats the ball, so
I just shoot, pick it up, and shoot, pick it up,
and the terrorists are trying to win, but I am
relentless, like that boy who wanted to kiss
me in thirteenth grade, how he kept trying,
kept trying, kept trying, and I finally gave
in, a peckless ghost of a kiss, just so that he
could feel for a moment that hell wasn’t
millimeters from our feet. I love it when
I’m blind from hail, when it hurts to live.
This poem was written while listening to Amy Winehouse's "Stronger Than Me."
In This Poem, I Explain to My Counselor in Detail the History of Violence Against the Indigenous
so that she will be able to understand my pain.
She asks me to spell my tribe again. She has me
clarify that it is in fact two as, back-to-back.
“The oddity of that!” She asks what they did
with our drums. She scribbles. I am teaching her
so, so much. She asks me to describe my pain.
Is it acute? Chronic? Radicular? Stabbing?
Cutting? Burning? Stinging? Boring? Colicky?
Splitting? Crushing? Nagging? Scalding?
Shooting? Throbbing? Dull? She has fallen
asleep. Snow White-ish. She looks so pretty
in her privilege. I tiptoe out. I return to my
people, who are spread out all over the globe,
paired up in twos. Our canoes are all on fire.