Charles Ries

Charles Ries

Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews, and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. Charles is the author of The Fathers We Find, a memoir as well as six books of poetry. He is completing work on a second novel titled, A Life By Invitation. Most recently he was awarded the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association "Jade Ring" Award for humorous poetry. He is the former poetry editor for Word Riot and a former member of the board at the Woodland Pattern Book Center. He will have new book of poetry published by Alternating Current Press in 2013 titled Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love.

A citizen philosopher, Ries lived in London and North Africa after college where he studied the mystical teachings of Islam called Sufism. In 1989 he worked with the Dalai Lama on a program that brought American religious leaders and psychotherapists together for a weeklong dialogue. It was during this same week that the Dalai Lama was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize. Ries has done extensive work with men's groups and worked with a Jungian Psychotherapist for over five years during which time he recorded five hundred dreams and learned to find the meanings in small things. He is a third degree Reiki healer, and has received advanced yoga training. He now finds mystical insight while drinking brandy old-fashioned sweets and writing in his basement.

Charles is a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes.

Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love

Propaganda Press, 2013

"They're complex,
these things we
build our hearts around."

Times change. People change. Places change. The good and the bad comes and goes. We move in circles; we move in lines; we move in slow motion; we move like hurricanes. The more things change, the more they remain the same. But one thing remains constant through all of time and place:

Love.

Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love is a meditation on the ebb and flow of love in these changing times. The screw-ups, suck-ups, epiphanies, black holes, celestial awakenings, and confusions of the thing considered mystical to some, and impossible to others. Told from the perspective of a middle-aged lover-in-training, these poems have all the joy and all the pain and all the wonder, but resonate through eyes that have traveled a few miles down that sometimes-lonesome highway of romance.

A book of meaning, wonder, laughter, and tears that women will adore ... but don't be fooled, men, because you'll root for it, too! Relatable on every level with tales of woe and joy; while the women are smiling in romantic bliss, you men will be wondering where this "guidebook" has been all your lives. Romance is not dead! Knuckleheads still abound! Love, sweet love is still the kindest medicine of them all.

While the young may suffer from love, it takes an experienced traveler to understand what to make of it. Charles P. Ries is guide, guru, therapist, participant, and equal-opportunity opportunist, as well as the blind leading the lost. Yet, through it all, his true north remains love, and his destination remains this singular realization of what it is to be fully alive and human.

The Last Time

New and Selected Poems

Charles Ries has again put together a collection of poems that reflect his ability
to examine his surroundings and himself with a skeptic's eye and a romanticist's
ideals.  When he combines the two, he offers readers a rich assortment of perspectives of the human condition---both actual and imagined.  He has succeeded in doing that in THE LAST TIME, his fourth book of poetry, published recently by The Moon of Tucson, Arizona.

With his heart steeped in the beauty, emotionality and the culture of Mexico, but with
his feet planted in Wisconsin, Ries demonstrates his progress as a poet and participant in our current society.  He has, in the past, been described as failing "to realize simplicity" as the way to reach the state of happiness.  In this newest work,he presents several poems that address his understanding of the need to live simply, yet his words acknowledge how the world gets in his way, as it does for all of us.

I'd Rather Be Mexican

I'd Rather be a Mexican is a delightful chapbook of poems that romanticizes Mexico and its people as objects to dream and ponder about life other than the one the speaker lives as a white English speaking man. The poetry exudes painterly and vivid beauty in deceptively simple lines. Readers are transported into scenes of Mexican architecture amid everyday life of sultry peasants. The poems are pleasantly varied between earthy surreal tropes, loving and heartbreaking portraits of family, sensual objects of desire, and dark humor regarding customs such as bull fighting and praying. I'd Rather be a Mexican is a highly enjoyable and accessible book of poetry.

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The Fathers We Find

The making of a pleasant, humble boy

(Unpublished; seeking representation)

A Novel Based on Memory by Charles P. Ries

SYNOPSIS

Set amidst the farm fields and rolling hills of Southeastern Wisconsin, THE FATHERS WE FIND is a coming-of-age story that takes place between 1950 and 1971. This novel based on memory closely parallels the experiences of its author who grew up on a mink farm just outside of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Drowning in a sea of nuns, priests, and hard-working church-goers, "Chuck," our narrator, stumbles his way to enlightenment with help from a series of delightful men in a journey that is simultaneously hilarious, poignant, and nostalgic.

Following his father's funeral, we find Chuck, a middle-aged man, sitting on the back porch of his parents' farm home trying to remember, "how he got here, to this place." His reflections take him back to his earliest memory, and his first job, at four years of age and the reward he would receive for becoming a little man. From there we find Chuck's mother praying that God make her first-born child a soldier in His army. Which He does. God follows that up by making five more of Helen and Carl's children recruits in His holy arsenal, causing parishioners to wonder if Helen and Carl might carry some sort of vocational virus. For some, this virus is a reason to draw near in hope of infection, and for others—well, it prompts them to run.

While prayerfully asking that he follow in his elder siblings footsteps, Chuck begins to see his shot at the priesthood slip through his hands when he realizes, in many veiled and not so veiled ways, that he may not be normal. Chuck resigns himself to life on the dust hip of his sacred family.

After taking a dare from his cousin to speed down a local park hill on his bike, he slides face first onto a pitch and gravel running track. On Sunday, his gray, red, iodine-orange face peers up at the outstretched hand of the priest administering communion, prompting him to say, "Body of Christ Almighty....what happened to your face?!" Additional large and small disasters further conspire to convince Chuck that he will never be a priest, and, worse still, he will never be normal. Yet, he is an earnest boy with an over-active mind and a desire to please God. He is relentless in his effort to do the right thing.

On the mink farm, Chuck is schooled in the joys of work, sex, and drinking by the Errol Flynn of Mink Farmers: Marvin Rammer. When off the farm, Chuck is taken to the School Of Joyful Thriftiness with his Uncle Peter and learns how to do the Fisherman's Cheer by Leon Heinmeister, the bull-shitting dockworker. Set within a family who believes that praying together and staying together are somehow linked, Chuck is set free from his overdeveloped scruples by the most unlikely of allies, Father Robert Weller, the Pastor of St. Peter Claver Church. In confessing a small litany of fleshful sins, Chuck realizes that Weller wants all the copy that's not fit to print and blurts out a home run confession. He lets Weller revel in his newly discovered marvel—SEX. The result of which only gets Chuck a couple of Our Fathers and three Hail Mary's along with Weller's caution, "to slow it down there, little fellow, or you'll rub it off."

After a stop at Hertzel's Day Old Delights Bakery and sneaking onto the Nut Hill Ski mound with his Uncle Peter, they stop at the VFW for a Fish Fry. There Chuck witnesses an exchange between Lilac Rummelfinger, an uptight parishioner, and dockworker Leon Heinmeister that makes him see what a thin barrier stands between people's differences. As he watches two of the most opposite people dance the Polka and find attraction, Chuck realizes that not everything is as it seems.

Exposed to the arts, mysticism, and social justice by his brother Bob, Chuck discovers a world that doesn't have a clue what he's talking about as he brings a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti to his Freshman English class or uses the cultural icon of Che Guevara to advance the political aspirations of his classmate, the Birdman, Andy Wertzelski. Chuck is a messenger before a sea of faces that wonder why he doesn't just shut up, get laid, and drink beer. With the tragic death of Marvin, a failed romance with his honors social studies teacher, and a painful fight with his father over the Viet Nam War, the inconsistencies of life send him into an existential adolescent spiral.
As a farewell to high school and to blunt his growing feelings of bewilderment, Chuck hosts a party for a few close friends while his parents are on a road trip in Father Weller's new Oldsmobile. The festivities get out of hand when hundreds of additional friends and friends of friends arrive. At the party's frenzied height, Uncle Peter makes an unscheduled stop to grub under the mink pens, which are a virtual fertility clinic for fishing worms. The revelers are quickly dispatched and Chuck again finds himself on the back porch with his uncle in a poignant moment of insight and acceptance. This brings our narrator full circle and returns him to his father's funeral, when a final memory and concluding insight come to him and weaves his life and its meaning together.

 

The Last Time

Review By: Lou Roach

Charles Ries has again put together a collection of poems that reflect his ability
to examine his surroundings and himself with a skeptic's eye and a romanticist's
ideals.  When he combines the two, he offers readers a rich assortment of perspectives of the human condition---both actual and imagined.  He has succeeded in doing that in THE LAST TIME, his fourth book of poetry, published recently by The Moon of Tucson, Arizona.

With his heart steeped in the beauty, emotionality and the culture of Mexico, but with
his feet planted in Wisconsin, Ries demonstrates his progress as a poet and participant in our current society.  He has, in the past, been described as failing "to realize simplicity" as the way to reach the state of happiness.  In this newest work,he presents several poems that address his understanding of the need to live simply, yet his words acknowledge how the world gets in his way, as it does for all of us.

"Thin Sip of Water" indicates the changes in his outlook.  "And why was I even trying to warm this glacier?/  I guess hoping hot lava ran beneath such cold weather veins./ Sweet surrender and Patsy Cline might co-habit this vision in black velvet."/

In a brief interview, when asked about his love of all things Hispanic, Ries noted "It
is a wonderful collision of culture, religion, art and poverty.  It has not become
bloated with money and stuff as ours has. . .Mexico is magic to me...The people don't need a priest as intermediary (with God.)  His view of Mexico has become synonymous with dreams as in "Fly, Fall Dreaming," where he admits, "My dream today is for a lover./ My dream doesn't require her to grow old with me and rub my forehead as I lay dying./ She only needs to fill my dream time./ My moment here and now.// Isn't that why we dream?/ To have the impossible for just a moment?/ To reach for things beyond our grasp during those times when falling and dreaming live suspended above our kitchen sink, answering machine and dinner table?"//

Ries clearly knows that life is never predictable.  He also knows enough to recognize meaningful bits of time as they occur.  In "Red Head," (about a real mentor/friend/muse), the poet speaks pensively: "When I am with her, being is like brathing and long silences are as productive as two hour conversations./ Love often finds us this way---Right person, wrong place/  Wrong time, right person/ Right woman, near death."/  He concludes, "I will be happy to hold her in my heart as a perfect moment when lkove blew through the right window at the wrong time."

The reader understands Ries would prefer to keep these moment close, even when outlines in sadness, rather than not have them at all.  With "Anti-Gravity Man,"
Ries relates to that empty place in all humans, the part of us that sets us on a path marked by introspection, dreams, wishes and an unending search for the person, the work or the passion that we hope may fill that mysteriously barren space.  Ries writes, "He tried to fill the hole-- find/ the center of what fell out of him."/  He describes the uncertainty of direction that  underlies most lives: "Most days he felt he wasn't even standing on/ earth.  But he wanted to.// He theorized that a heart must hold the universe and weigh ten thousand pounds./ It is a heart that keeps feet on the floor."//

A man who has lived much---emotionally, intellectually and spiritually---Ries reveals his comprehension of how connection to others makes us real when he states, "Nothing mattered to this untethered floating pilgrim, but finding a cure/ for his gaping hole.  A yearning he did not acknowledge until the day/ he became firmly rooted in her."

Throughout this book of poetry, Ries examines the joys of being truly alive.  He frequently emphasizes just how difficult humans find the reach for perfection, as in "Perfect Saint," where he appreciates a Latin saint, Maximon, who forgives "any transgression." "He rises with the sun and burns all night long.// How glorious to be naked/ beneath a blanket of forgiveness."//

"Bad Buddha"  presents Ries's wish to give in to wild emotionality, his desire to spend some time living without detachment and discernment.  The reader realizes that beneath his pieceful exterior, odd pieces of anger and indignation roil within his inner self and that even though he had actively sought calm for himself, there are days he would choose to move outside his compassion, like much of the rest of the world.  "I'd like a few of my old attachments/ back.  Wrap a tasty wad of anger/ around my fist and pound it home/ . . .So come to think of it, I guess I do/ have a few nasty attachments dangling/ from my purified psyche. . ."/

The range of the poems in THE LAST TIME makes known the poet's personal growth since the publication of his first book, BAD MONK: Neither Here Nor There.  He is less confused about love and more in tune with what love means.  He tells richer stories and owns more depth of feeliung than in his previous offering.  We benefit exponentially from his development as a poet.

One of Ries's poems, "Below the Floor," underscores how distance between self and others causes isolation, and how he has dealt with that distance on one occasion.   "I live in the basement/ beneath the footstepts/...My es-wife lives one floor above,/ 10,000 miles away./ My daughters with wings/ sail between heaven and earth./ Getting honey from the clouds/ and iron from the brown soil.//  My possessions are ideas./  My lovers' names all rhyme./ My conquests are fictionalized.// The shadow side of home sweet home,/ where a giant prowls naked beneath the floor ..."/

The title poem, "The Last Time," is both sadly reminiscent and celebratory of the
paradoxes of love.  Ries captures the sensuality, the fragility and the wonder of how
love begins and how, unfortunately, it may end.  He also reminds us that we treasure the fragments that remain because of the delight, the heightened senses that keep us open to opportunity.  Ries asks, "Do you suppose love - true love - parts/ the curtain and allows angels and night visitors/ to circle this light? A light that smells like cinnamon/ and sounds like children's whispers./ We had only to breathe the same air to believe it."//

In that poem, as in others in the book, Ries demonstrates his increasing ability to see and describe the unpredictability of relationships, the pursuit of living fully, and the courage to see life changes with "new eyes," as Proust encuraged all of us to do.  Ries's attitude shows us how.

© ZygoteInMyCofffee

Marquette University has established the Charles P. Ries Collection, an archive containing the author's entire body of work to date.

Listen to the Jane Crown Poetry Radio Interview with Charles P. Ries (December 2009)

Listen to the ESC! Magazine Interview with Charles P. Ries (July 2006)

Brian Morrisey, Editor of Poesy interviews Charles P. Ries in Issue 31 / Spring 2006. The interview focuses on the Poetry Foundation, and how it can do a better job of serving poets, small press publishes and editors; with $100 million to spend The Poetry Foundation can and should do more.

Two Poems by Charles P. Ries

Daniel M. Shapiro reads Killing Season and Sex for Liver, poetry by Charles Ries that is brought to life by Daniel's inspired reading and the lovely storyboard visuals in this video.

Visit the Charles P. Ries Collection archived at Marquette University.