Book Review: Elisavietta Ritchie’s Feathers or Love on the Wing

Both bird and people watchers can catch colorful glimpses in Elisavietta Ritchie’s new chapbook Feathers or Love on the Wing.

Elisavietta Ritchie's Feathers

Elisavietta Ritchie’s new chapbook

In this volume, Ritchie transforms birds and nature into metaphors for living, loving and dying. Ritchie’s poems appear against full-page watercolors by artist Megan Richard.

Sometimes the matches are stark, as with the dark feathers bordering “Dinner Partners,” a poem in which Ritchie shares her meal with a turkey vulture. Other times, the colors are vivid but abstract, as with the ruby-throated figure hovering over the small poem “On a Midwinter Gift of a Hummingbird Feeder.” Ritchie’s poetry hovers over a range of emotional experience.

“Aftermath” tells the story of a black snake that slithers away from a wrecked bluebird house, reminding Ritchie of men that she has known:

he leaves on the lawn the nest
woven of moss, grass, down
plucked from the mother’s breast,
and glistening in the sun, his shed skin.

Balance this raid against “Chickens are not emotionally satisfying Pets,” where an interloping hen leaves an egg in an open dresser drawer:

found my darning needle, poked
a hole in the narrow end,
gulped the rich and slimy life inside.

In “Dead Hen Chronicles,” Ritchie remembers a bird that she plucked and disemboweled when she was 12 years old, whose sudden squawk still “resounds, resounds.” In “What Do you Do With a Dead Bird,” Ritchie balances inner and outer lives, wondering what guests will think of an avian corpse on the writing table or a “weird taste for moribund things”:

Mortality’s an expected guest.
Skulls are fine for saints to contemplate.
Permit this wingless sinner then
a cranium mere blueberry size.

In “Kingfisher on the Bookshelf,” Ritchie connects paths between poetry and dream:

If you do not write for days, do
undone poems emerge as dreams?

Together, the watercolors and poems provide dreamlike and feathery visions.

Elisavietta Ritchie

Elisavietta Ritchie

Elisavietta Ritchie, an LPR contributor, is a writer, editor and translator whose own poems have been widely published and translated into a dozen languages. She has received the 1976 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and the 2006 Anamnesis Press Poetry Chapbook Award, among other honors.

Maryland artist Megan Richard works in watercolors, fluid acrylics and inks, finding inspiration in the nature of the Chesapeake Bay, the Patuxent River, the Adirondack Mountains and the Great Lakes.

Suzanne Shelden created the book in an original and beautiful way through Shelden Studios in the woods above the Patuxent River.

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