R. M. Ryan delivers in The Lost Roads Adventure Club poems dripping with reminiscence.
There are poems about his childhood, a mid-century Midwestern boyhood, about his college years, and his time in Vietnam as a soldier.
In some pieces, Ryan writes about his cancer diagnosis. In others, he recalls places he’s visited.
Even the travel poems which read in the present tense, as if we’re with Ryan looking upon an old church or a scenic coastline, are framed as memories. And why not?
Ryan is of a generation moving into its final act. Baby Boomers today occupy space in a country nearly unrecognizable to the one in which they were born and operated for most of their lives.
The institutions and values and norms that persisted throughout the United States for much of the 20th century, the time in which Boomers dominated our nation, are shifting or evolving or outright disappearing.
Every person since the first person has surely in the clearing light of later life looked back on their earlier years with remembrance. It’s a nature undoubtedly heightened by being a member of a defining generation, such as the Baby Boomers.
The risk with a collection such as The Lost Roads Adventure Club (paid link) is that it could be an obtuse swan song of self-importance. Instead, R. M. Ryan invites us into his memories as a way of sharing rather than preaching.
R. M. Ryan: The stockbroker poet
R. M. Ryan is an American success story. It’s a tale increasingly rare today.
He grew up working class and, as a teenager, took a job in a factory. He went to college. Was drafted into the Vietnam War.
Ryan then worked as a stockbroker. It was evidently a lucrative career, based on some of his poems about trips taken and cars driven.
These days, there aren’t many factories in our country that employ people. And if there were, most young people wouldn’t work in them. Not to mention, we don’t draft people to fight our wars anymore.
Based on his author’s bio, he spent his days in stocks and his nights in poetry. And now, in what we can assume is retirement, R. M. Ryan is devoting himself completely to the arts.
He’s the author of the novel, There’s a Man with a Gun Over There, based on his time in Vietnam. And he’s produced other poetry collections, including 2010’s Vaudeville in the Dark.
The Lost Roads Adventure Club came out in 2017. It’s a thick book of poetry broken into five parts.
The collection operates as Ryan’s life story. And it’s a tale increasingly unimaginable when juxtaposed alongside the America of today.
Metallic truths of The Lost Roads Adventure Club
Many of the poems in The Lost Roads Adventure Club are delivered with the dry crispness of experience. These aren’t whimsical lines of folly.
There’s an exactitude to the poetry of R. M. Ryan that can almost leave a metallic taste in your mouth as you read it.
For example, in a poem about working in a factory as the Vietnam War is revving up (“The Night Shift, Fairbanks Morse, 1965”), Ryan writes:
It was 1965. Our enemies are out there,
circling us, firing in the dark.
‘The world’s a dangerous place,’ Bruno says,
shaking the last drops from Stanley Themos
into his mouth, and we look around
in the 4 a.m. night. I’m a shiver of nerves,
Even when you think Ryan may crash into the sea of romanticism, he pulls up sharply. For example, in “This Lovely Dalliance,” in which Ryan is watching two geckos mate, he writes:
So exquisite this moment is.
How lucky I was to see it there,
this tingle in the midst of time,
in this world where we all must die.
And that’s what is most surprising about The Lost Roads Adventure Club: R. M. Ryan doesn’t fall for sap.
It’s easy, if not expected, for a collection of poetic remembrances to be nostalgic and sentimental. Ryan avoids this with a deliberate dryness that delivers life plainly as it was, not as it could be remembered.
We are products of our time. Thus the poems of a Baby Boomer poet, such as R. M. Ryan, contain elements you don’t see in the words of poets from other generations.
There are moments in The Lost Roads Adventure Club that can trigger a flinch or a cringe by readers accustomed to a newer version of societal norms.
For example, in “The Confessions of the Professor,” Ryan writes about a professor sexually desiring his female student.
Even Ryan’s travel poems, about consuming expensive wine in far-flung places, can be received negatively by debt-ridden Millennials who are inheriting a planet potentially close to bursting into literal flames.
Right now there’s a debate about whether or not it’s time for Baby Boomer politicians to exit the stage. It’s difficult to read The Lost Roads Adventure Club and not feel a similar pull to dismiss a Boomer poet.
But that would be a disservice. For through the experience of others, we can discover ourselves and can ant
And the poems of R. M. Ryan help to illuminate the road before us.
Disclaimer: Louisiana State University Press provided me with a complimentary copy of The Lost Roads Adventure Club. I was not required to write a review, be it positive or negative. The opinions expressed here are my own. And I have not received any compensation for writing this post.
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