Listening in Many Publics

Listening in Many Publics

A review of Listening in Many Publics by Jay Ritchie

Published on March 14, 2024

Listening in Many Publics
Jay Ritchie

Invisible Publishing

It is a queer thing, for a poet to fear images. Most poets spend their lives in chase of them, others conceal them in metaphor. Jay Ritchie meets them in an unwilling embrace. Listening in Many Publics, Ritchie’s second published collection, admixes an anxious, capitalist surrealism with the fleeting liminality of memory, speaking back to a visual culture, where to look is to see but not feel. It is also a meditation on language, powerful in its ability to conjure images that, once spoken, entrap, first in the limits of language and then in the worlds it creates. Generous repetition disallows forgetfulness, and a central set of reluctantly disclosed images – trees, fences, a varia of commodities – act as an axis for the work, appearing 

to repeat as you pass,
their boundary doubling,
dividing in from out, have from haven’t,
is from was […]

Soon this grammar becomes the image itself, found everywhere from “The trees beside the street / an ellipsis” to the “reeds / that bend like question marks.”

The thrust of the collection returns, however, to a genuine grappling with the incoherencies of modern life. This honestly comes at a price. Tepid metaphors unfurl because they are not metaphorical, but literal. Other times, figuration is disavowed entirely, and the common struggle plainly named: “capital, sustenance, capital, sustenance.” The poems fall back to materiality not for lack of imagination, but as a consequence of confronting the hard edge of a life, where figuration proves insufficient in the face of mounting crises. 

Who is the enemy? The image dispirited by modernity or the poet’s reluctance to capture it? By turns disparaging and optimistic, Listening in Many Publics refuses an easy answer. Instead, it amounts to a survival tale – of trying to sustain oneself on nimble poetic disposition under the continuous and varied threats of exhaustion that come from both without and within.mRb

Ronny Litvack-Katzman is a writer and poet who, after a decade in Montreal, still gets lost in the Metro. He recently graduated with a MA in English from McGill University.



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