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The poet's life

 

Ray McNiece has earned a national reputation as a poet and performer for almost two decades through his solo theater pieces, his poetry and music shows, his captaining of 2 National Poetry Slam Championship teams, his "edutaining" children's shows and workshops, and his yearly country-wide tours of performance poems, stories and songs.  CV:  pdfs_texts/CV 2022 Ray McNiece revised.pdf

pdfs_texts/Highlights for Ray McNiece Revised 2022.pdf

Ray in Russia         Ray McNiece has authored eleven books of poems and monologues and CDs, most recently Love Song for Cleveland, a collaboration with photographer Tim Lachina and Breath Burns Away, New Haiku. The Orlando Sentinel reporting on Ray’s solo theater piece “Us  — Talking Across America” at the Fringe Festival called him “a modern day descendant of Woody Guthrie. He has a way with words and a wry sense of humor.” He toured Russia with Yevgeny Yevtushenko, appeared on Good Morning, Russia and performed at the Moscow Polytech, the Russian Poets’ Hall of Fame where he was dubbed ‘the American Mayakovski.’ He has toured Italy twice with legendary Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He fronts the blues rock band, Tongue-in-Groove. Among many awards, he has received a Creative Work Force Fellowship and residencies at The Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Jack Kerouac House. He is currently Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights. In 2021 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cleveland Arts Prize.

Ray performing at the Poet's Hall of Fame, the Moscow Polytech, for the enthusiastic crowds.

     Highlights of his past tours include a keynote address shared with Robert Bly at the First Coast Writer’s Conference, a featured reading at the opening of City Light’s Italia in Florence with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and a performance with his band Tongue in Groove at the Starwood Festival, opening for legendary drummer Babatunde Oluntunje. In the summer of 2001 he toured Russia with Yevgeny Yevtushenko where he appeared on Good Morning, Russia and performed at the Moscow Polytech, the Russian Poets’ Hall of Fame where he was dubbed ‘the American Mayakovski’.

Ray on the winning team in Boston

     He has received numerous awards for his writing and performance, including the 2001 Hart Crane Award from KSU, a residency in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and a residency at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. He was the captain of two National Poetry Slam Championship teams (’92 Boston, ’94 Cleveland) and won the Arkansas Grand Slam, the largest performance poetry prize ever awarded.

      Ray is also an accomplished actor and has appeared in plays at Ensemble, Dobama, Cleveland Public and Cleveland Playhouse theatres. He was an original cast member of the improv comedy Flanigan’s Wake. He performs in schools as Johnny Appleseed. He was also a playwright for CPTs, Blue Sky Tranmission, and acted in Open Mind Firmament as Cuchullain, legendary Irish hero. His last production at CPT was Barbecue.

File downloads:  event planning, short bio, etc.
 


Grandfather’s Breath

You work.  You work, Buddy.  You work.

Word of immigrant get-ahead grind I hear

huffing through me, my grandfather’s breath,

when he’d come in from Saturday’s keep-busy chores,

fending up a calloused hand to stop

me from helping him, haggard cheeks puffing

out like grey t-shirts hung between tenements,

doubled-over under thirty-five years a machine

repairman at the ball-bearing factory, ball-bearings

making everything run smoother –

especially torpedoes.  He busted butt

for the war effort, for profiteers, for overtime pay

down-payment on a little box of his own,

himself a refugee from the European economy,

washed ashore after The War to End All Wars.

Cheap labor for the winners.

 

I hear his youth plodding through the hayfields

above Srednevas, and the train that wheezed

and lumbered to the Trieste, the boat where he heave-hoed

consumptive sister, one-two-overboard.

I hear him scuffling along factory smoke choked streets

of Cleveland, coughing out chunks of broken

English just to make it to Saturday morning balinca –

how he grunted off a week’s worth of grit

hurling wooden balls down the pressed dirt court,

sweaty wisp of gray hair wagging from his forehead,

This is how the world turns.  You work hard.  You practice.

And I hear his claim as we climbed the steps

of Municipal Stadium, higher, into the cheap seats,

slapping the flat of his hand against a girder,

I built this, Buddy.  I built this.

 

But mostly I hear how he’d catch

what was left of his breath after those Saturday chores,

pouring out that one, long, tall cold beer

that Grandma allowed, holding it aloft,

bubbles golden as hayfields above Srednavas,

before savoring it down and taking up

the last task of his day off – cleaning the cage,

letting Snowball, canary like the ones once used

to test coal mines for poison air, flap clumsily free

around the living room, crapping

on the plastic covered davenport and easy-chair

they only sat in twice a year.

 

And I’m still breathing, Grandfather, that day

you took me down the basement to the cool floor

to find out what was wrong. Come on, Snowball,

fly.  Fly! The bird splayed out on the same linoleum

where they found you, next to your iron lung,

where Grandma mopped for weeks after,

pointing with arthritic fingers, See. There.

There’s where he fell and bumped his head.

See the specks of blood? She can’t work out.

One fine morning when my work is done

I’m gonna fly away home, fly away home.

Come on, Snowball, fly.  Fly…

 

 

from Bone Orchard Conga, BOOKS

 

O Say Can You See

O say can you see

this country free

of bigotry, hostility, incivility

from sea to shining tv?

 

The tribes are picking up sides

from Ferguson to Charlotte

from Minneapolis to Cleveland

and there’s nowhere left to hide

for the children of the dream

walking hand in hand

down the black and white wound

running across this land.

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

Can you find the human

being beaten on this screen?

Being beaten on that screen?

He deserved it. “Payback happens.”

What goes around, comes around,

said the eye for an eye blind men.

But the rioting is on the wall.

“Mr. President, you have a call

on the white courtesy phone.”

 

It’s the BLANKS’ fault.  The BLANKS

started it.  You know how they are.

They don’t really belong here.

So we sell ourselves on talk shows

like bugs shaken in a jar.

And the finger of blame points around

in an angry trigger circle.

We’re all living in the same hood now,

buying into Babylonian hype.

Mad. Ave. went to bed with Holly Would

and raised a little family of stereotypes.

 

Say, hey can you see

somebody who looks just like me

 somebody who looks just like you,

peering out from the leaves

of our family tree

rooted in Mother Africa?

We are the children of the dream

who wandered our separate ways

along time gone, gathered together

here again today.  Remember?

Can we call ourselves brothers and sisters?

 

What color was the hand

Cain raised against Abel

after it fell?  How will we ever

wipe the slate clean

when the powers that be

sell us whitewash and blackball

so we can paint ourselves

into our own corners,

the mirrors of our monsters?

Can you see the eyes

of a sister, a brother,

a mother, a father

behind the masks

of your worst nightmares?

 

O say can you see

through the lies

that we are not us?

That we are us versus?

And where is Justice?

Or is it just us?

 

We are the children of the dream

wandering the desert of America

through the smokescreen

from the fire next time come home,

walking hand in hand

down the black and white wound

running across this land

healed over with each step       

together and together again.

O say can you see the person

walking next to you now?

 

Tasting What of the Sun We Can

At the end of summer the last
of the tall grass stems yellow and hollow.
Rafts of ironweed and goldenrod
cluster over the field, and we both
recite their names, assuring each other.
We pick bristleberries that absorbed
their fill of the sun's pulses
and smash them between roof and tongue,
tasting what of the sun we can.
We spit - ripe is a day sooner than rotten. 

I snap a black, fallen branch open
and smell the inside's incense
and hold the cherrywood out to you.
You draw in, then exhale, nodding good, 
agreeing to what is passing. 

 

 __________________________________________

                                                     Note:  Poem from the book, "The Road That Carried Me Here"
                                                     click on > BOOKS

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