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The Tender Poetry of Richard Ronan

Poet and teacher Jan Vanstavern rocked my world in 1997 when I took her class at Mills college. I can't remember the title of the class but the focus was poetry--all kinds but mostly contemporary poetry, especially poems that considered the body, the sensuous.

One day she gave us copies of Richard Ronan's work, volumes generously donated by Gwen Head, the founder of Dragon Gate Press. Ronan was a full full person but what struck me most about him was that he wrote powerfully about the body, unashamedly about our fragility, tenderly about amorous love between men.

I flipped to the back of the collection of "A Radiance Like Wind or Water" to read the final poem (a habit of mine). He had me.

Beach Walk

A harbor of round stones,
the hoods of crabs bright as sunset,
the color of flayed salmon flesh,
left in the sunlight where gulls have feasted
and gone,
green-white wands of sea oats arching fruit through wreckage,
alive in the yardage of cable rusting into knot and honeycomb,
seaweeds, the bone-wrack of fish, dried into a twisted language,
displayed with shell, small stone, chips of fraying wood
and yet nothing seems ever to happen; the beach is always
discovered with a quiet litter of events, enormous,
multiple, seemingly brief, always in the past.

To think that all this has occurred
in our lifetimes, yours and mine, in a series of days,
unnoticed before our eyes as we stared at each other, wary
of the past, careful of our futures,
focused by a human love,
our small hem of the tide. . . .

It is difficult to tell ourselves that we live as we live;
we need these sun-stretched days that harbor
us while we drift over our own evidence,
learning we are grateful, awe-filled, knowing we’ve been touched
by a finger of the wet wind and halted,
breathing with its whistle in the shell-like place
of our having lived together.

--Richard Ronan
from A Radiance Like Wind or Water
(Port Townsend: Dragon Gate Press, Inc., 1982)

For more on Richard Ronan and his work, go to