David Ray


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The Endless Search: A Memoir

Ray, David

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Coulehan, Jack
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this memoir the poet David Ray describes his troubled childhood and adolescence. Born into a poverty-stricken Oklahoma family, David and his sister lived in a succession of foster homes, after his abusive father walked out and his mother, a needy and often preoccupied woman, found it difficult to care for them. As an adolescent, David was sent to live in Arizona with John Warner, a war veteran who became his "guardian."

From the beginning, Warner sexually abused the troubled adolescent, who spent several years attempting, ineffectually, to escape from his abuser. After graduating from high school in Tucson, Ray accepted a scholarship to the University of Chicago, much against the wishes of his mother, who appeared occasionally in the picture, as well as those of Warner. In Chicago Ray finally freed himself from the abusive pattern.

The memoir provides a heartrending portrait of a succession of dysfunctional relationships, in most of which Ray, or his sister Ellen, emerge as victims or scapegoats. One of these is an intense experience with a sadistic writing instructor named Lowney Handy, who ran a writers’ colony in Illinois, and who may (or may not) have tried to murder David Ray. The book ends with a tension-filled reunion in 1966 between Ray and his biological father, after the young man had successfully completed graduate school and begun his career as a poet and teacher. The old man was just as hurtful as ever, and, reflecting on that last visit and his relationship with his father, Ray recalls some lines from Rilke: it was "so cloudy that I cannot understand / this figure as it fades into the background."

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Coulehan, Jack
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is a remarkable collection of poems about the Holocaust by a poet who himself survived horrific abuse during his childhood and adolescence (see The Endless Search: A Memoir in this database). "He had in mind a thousand year Reich," Ray writes (p. 16), but it has become "the thousand year Kaddish." But the grief of the Holocaust has begun to move away from us after only 60 years, and we turn our backs on continuing atrocity and death, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, for example, (p.22) and the Death Squads of South America.

While the author was a small boy in Mingo, Oklahoma, "Dr. Mengele was cutting girls in half, twins." (p. 28) This evil remains in the world. Ray celebrates the survivors and acknowledges the very real grief that exists in the world, but he also understands that evil is an inextricable dimension of human nature. In the words Ray attributes to Adolf Eichmann just before he was hanged, "Your world is full of me, I am all over the place . . . and whether you like it or not, what I have done will be done." (pp. 66-67)

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The Hemlock Society

Ray, David

Last Updated: Jul-05-1999
Coulehan, Jack
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Imagine bits of conversation you might hear at a meeting of the Hemlock Society. "A very brave woman." "Not wanting to become / a mere vegetable." "A burden to others." Some other people want to hold on, even though the burden is measured in tons. The speaker concludes that he wants to keep his subscription paid up "and keep / the stash handy."[28 lines]

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The Progress of the Soul

Ray, David

Last Updated: May-18-1997
Coulehan, Jack
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet has "grown quite good at ignoring" the suffering people who beg in the streets of India. "The beautiful legless girl," "the spider man," the babies with swollen bellies--he has learned to be almost blind to the poverty, disease and deformity that surrounds him. Or, at least, he pretends not to see, and then tries to sneak a photograph. He knows that if he tried to help these people, "next time / they would claw me to shreds."

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In the Third Month

Ray, David

Last Updated: Jan-17-1995
Coulehan, Jack
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Three months after his son's death, the author is driving by "the storefront where we found his blue Toyota." He is simply doing errands, nothing special, but suddenly "the tears pour down / as I think how much he wanted to be a man . . . . "After the death, the author found his son's books, including "one stamped in gold but with all the pages blank."

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