I have no idea when Kevin Ridgeway does his best writing and/or thinking. If I had to guess, and If I only had his latest collection Riding Off Into That Strange Technicolor Sunset to guide me, I would venture to say that his best creative leaps of faith occur at around four in the morning. He writes and deconstructs casual scenes (“Runway Selfie” is a good example of this) with a tiredness that has to occur, in order for everything else to disappear, except for the blunt, brilliant insights of the moment. “North Piano Blues” and “Stockyards” are crisp, instantly engaging examples of a writer who embraces certain preconceptions of the insomniac writer. At the same time, poems like these are also great examples of a writer who is so much more complex than those preconceptions.
Some poets deal in the unseen. They look for the dystopian galaxy that may or may not exist within some seemingly random, supposedly ordinary household object. Ridgeway occasionally touches on this philosophy, but it ultimately doesn’t seem to be his bag. He is much more interested in functioning as a storyteller. He thrives on giving us the impression that we have just set foot in an urban setting that is simultaneously 1960s Las Vegas, Tim Burton’s Gotham City, the breaking point New York City reached by the end of the 1970s, and a few other sprawling, menacing, dazzling cityscapes. Riding Off Into That Strange Technicolor Sunset represents all of that, and Ridgeway is our fearless, weary tour guide. He is a barker that speaks quietly. He is a reporter who blends fiction with non-fiction that somehow never fails to feel as though it all really happened.
Riding Off Into That Strange Technicolor Sunset can be read in less than an hour. However, if you want to read just one poem, in order to get a sense of what a singular voice like Ridgeway brings to the table, check out “An Overpriced Plate of Gourmet French Fries at the Phoenix Airport.” No other poem in this flawless collection better emphasizes Ridgeway’s storytelling capabilities, as well as his talent for making profoundly personal ideas and details come across as something the reader has more than enough potential to understand.
In your own way, you will understand everything that goes on in these pieces. Kevin Ridgeway has clearly earned a good night’s sleep. At the same time, we selfishly need him to stay on the restless beat he has carved out for himself. Presumably, he will continue moving forward. His creative voice and ingenious, varied output suggest very strongly that he is not exactly a big believer in taking the day off. Does something like that even exist for a mind as active and inventive as his?