By all accounts, Atsuro Riley is having a banner year. Just this week, Romey’s Order, Riley’s first collection (voiced by the invented boy-speaker named in the book’s title) was one of five books nominated for the inaugural Believer Poetry Award. The poet, the son of an ex-serviceman father and a Japanese mother, was raised in rural South Carolina and his work bears the unmistakable imprint of the local Southern idiom. In Romey’s Order, Riley’s poetic language, with its frequent syllabic stresses and percussive compounds, both clangs and languishes in vivid descriptions of lowcountry life.
Riley is no stranger to praise, though—or to the varied attentions of the American literary community. Previously the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, Poetry magazine’s Wood Prize, and the Witter Bynner Award from the Library of Congress, Riley added the Kate Tufts Discovery Award to his accolades just this past January. An early review by Dominic Luxford in the Believer’s October 2010 issue remembers how all of this first came to be:
In December of 2001, Atsuro Riley stepped onto the poetry scene, seemingly from out of nowhere, with a nearly perfected style. These were poems you would expect at the height of a poet’s career, poems in which previous efforts were transcended and everything mysteriously came together. Almost ten years later, Riley has released one of the most exciting and distinctive debut collections in years.
Romey’s Order has been praised by Dana Jennings in the New York Times as “a stunning first book of poems,” singled out by Peter Campion in Poetry as “astonishing and original,” and summarized thusly by the Dallas Morning News:
“The pleasures of Romey’s Order are wondrous and manifold.”
Riley maintains a website for the book which features readings of many of the poems, available via steaming audio or free download. Listening in this afternoon, the experience was much as you might expect: part Hopkins, part Heaney, aurally hypnotic, a bit surreal, and at the same time, so perfectly attuned to the particular rhythms of that local idiom that it seemed entirely otherworldly. We recommend you have a listen.