Reckonings attempts to account for the slow violence of Appalachia's industrialization, while also positioning us in meaningful relation to this violence. It's impossible work, making meaning out of the willful destruction of the working class and of the earth, but Ryan Walsh mounts a passionate defense of the too-often overlooked and devalued lives and landscapes of West Virginia.
Walsh is author of two previous chapbooks and this is his first premier/debut book of poems. It’s stunning ... Each page is a powerful notice formed by the landscape: insistent, imagistic, with a lesson in each story. We can see the grand pattern with poetry as social contract, but it would mean nothing if subject and style were not so beautifully paired. Each poem is an ordinary blessing, often one about danger, but this knowledgeable perceptive writing is not rhetoric, it’s narrative — felt life — well served by the right word connections on the right lines, with the right stillness. Hope that Walsh wins a first book prize.
Weaving together imagery of the raw Appalachian beauty of Walsh's childhood and the contemporary contamination of that place, [a] comparison to Silent Spring is not too far off. The poems are in no way a treatise, but they bear a resemblance to that opening chapter, envisioning an apocalyptic outcome as well as seeing how blindly we are bringing that end upon ourselves... Lyrical and resonant, filled with sound and beautiful juxtapositions between the built and natural, or the ecological and the Anthropocene, Reckonings manages to be an elegy for the lost world and those who populated it and also a call for our world to end so that we can 'gather like new-days monks' in a better place, one where we can forget the names of stars and reckon our friends' faces by firelight and maybe cup our hands and drink from the rivers and streams.
... Reckonings, focuses on the emotional poignancy of risk and contamination ... One of Walsh’s poems, 'Expert Testimony' ... condenses and dramatizes the testimony of soil scientist Dr. Kirk Brown as a way of poignantly representing the expert witness’s actual language ... In fewer than 100 words, this poem crystallizes Dr. Brown’s actual testimony, which is far more defuse and equivocal. The witness’s statement about the increased risk of cancer is translated from numerical probabilities into biological activities...as a way of vivifying the pathways of contamination and enhancing readers’ empathy for victims of dangerous contamination ... Other poems...evoke wistful nostalgia, a yearning to know the pre-industrial 'wild perfection' of Appalachia that now seems unattainable.