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Stephen Ratcliffe

Poems from CLOUD / RIDGE


blinding silver of sun coming up between backlit
trees at top of ridge, yellow and green scotch
broom branches moving back and forth in right
         woman on phone looking at the girl
asleep in the pink and yellow bed, camera
filming Picasso painting on glass
                                    man in red
jacket noticing that in Olivier’s film Horatio
doesn’t read the letter from Hamlet, Olivier
speaking as one ship sails up to the other

Mrs. Ramsay asking William Bankes “did you find
your letters,” thinking how “sailor not without
weariness sees the wind fill his sails”
cloud in blue sky above the ridge, light green
wall of swell approaching in right foreground


line of circular orange flowers on green passion
vine-covered fence in left foreground, unseen
song sparrows calling from field beyond it

woman on phone recalling Kerouac’s “Early
History of Bop” first came out in Escapade,
adding Cecil Taylor isn’t standing entirely
        man in black jacket looking at words
curved around a white ceramic shape, “stone”
dripping on plane behind it
                              Lily Briscoe
noticing that Mrs. Ramsey was looking old,
thinking of a ship whose “sails have sunk
beneath the horizon”
                       lines of grey white
clouds on horizon, empty blue sky reflected
across nearly motionless blue plane below it


yellow pink light coming into the sky above
vertical plane of still dark ridge in right
corner, two birds circling above green field
below it
           woman on phone thinking of Dora Maar
in relation to Picasso, wondering what it means
to say she had a life outside of his
pregnant woman asking how an eight-pound rose-
lipped girl can take over what was once her
life, everything calm only when she gives
herself completely
                     Lily Briscoe thinking “I
shall avoid that awkward space,” moving the salt
cellar back “to remind herself to move the tree”

white water breaking on reef in right corner,
blue grey point on horizon across from it


diagonal plane of low grey white cloud moving
across the green of the ridge, invisible song
sparrow calling from scotch broom in the left
             woman on phone planning to start
embroidering shirt with scarlet “no,” noting
that she is still in possession of two ears

shirtless man leaning back against a white
pillow on a stone wall, shadow of circular
orange flower moving back and forth across
brick-red plane
                  Charles Tansley thinking
“women make civilization impossible,” Lily
Briscoe liking his blue eyes
                               empty blue sky
reflected in nearly motionless plane below it,
cormorant flapping from the channel toward it


pink orange light in sky above the still dark
ridge in the window opposite the unmade yellow
and blue bed, sound of wave breaking in channel
below it
           man on phone finding a manifestation
of the real in recent work, noting that “grey”
and “gray” appear to be two different words

shirtless man leaning back in green chair
thinking of Hamlet’s voyage to “England,”
honeybee landing on purple lavender stalk next
to left elbow
                Charles Tansley claiming “women
can’t paint,” Lily Briscoe thinking “I must move
the tree to the middle”
                          lines of white water
moving across flat grey plane in upper right
corner, shadow of grey green swell on left

Stephen Ratcliffe’s CLOUD / RIDGE is a 474 page collection of poems written between 7.2.01–10.18.02 (one-poem-per-day for 474 consecutive days). These words look at (‘write down’) actual (real) things/ events/ actions in the world that ‘take (physical) shape’ on the page. The author says: ‘As for ‘content,’ each stanza has a particular focus: in the first, what I see looking out the window in the morning; in the next two, things I’ve seen & heard the previous day the fourth on a something in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; in the last, something I have seen in the water surfing the previous day. I’m trying to find a way of mixing (orchestrating) these materials together into something that is both greater than the sum of its parts but also, simply and insistently, the actual (‘real composition’) of those parts.’

His latest books are SOUND/(system) from Green Integer and Portraits & Repetition from The Post-Apollo Press (2002). Listening to Reading, a collection of essays on ‘experimental’ poetry, was published by SUNY Press in 2000. He lives in Bolinas, CA, publishes Avenue B books, and teaches at Mills College in Oakland CA.

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