Say Hello


Ryan G. Van Cleave is a poet, fiction writer,and editor born in Neenah, Wisconsin. He received his B.A. from Northern Illinois University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Florida State University. He has co-edited five anthologies, most recently American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement and Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America. His work has been published in Arts & Letters, The Journal, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, The Antioch Review, and many other literary journals. He currently is the Anastasia C. Hoffman Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Creative Writing.

Pecan Grove Press

Say Hello
Ryan G. Van Cleave

“Ryan G. Van Cleave is a born storyteller. His narrative poems are smart, funny, energetic and compassionate. behind each poem is a true sensitivity to human beings in all their madness and magnificence. Say hello to this book!”

—Martin Espada

“Out of the ‘indifference and ash’ that surround so much of our lives at the century’s end, Ryan G. Van Cleave’s poems rise up ‘lleno de dientes y relampagos, / full of teeth and lightning.’ Streetwise, hip, bilingual and alive, they come to praise the lost and abandoned, the overlooked and undone, and for all the hard truths they’re determined to tell, they speak in a voice like ‘starlight spilled golden upon [a] dark tile roof.’ That starlight is every reader’s blessing.”

—Sherod Santos

“Say Hello is an appropriate title to introduce Ryan G. Van Cleave into the ranks of emerging poets. Unlike most, however, Van Cleave’s poems have a refreshing, liberating feel—the feel of the outdoors, where many works in this insightful collection are set; but also, the feel of tradition, from sharply-honed Wilbur-like lines in lyrics to well-wrought stanzas in Goldbarthian narratives. Perhaps best of all in Say Hello, appropriately, is voive at times descriptive and contemplative, at times passionate and raw but always rich enough to transcend form and enhance meaning.”

—Michael Bugeja

“In this collection, ‘there is something like sorrow on the front porch” as people stumble through accident, tragedy and the good fortune that occasionally befalls them. Say Hello pays witty tribute to the essential weirdness of contemporary American life.”

—Kim Addonizio

“Ryan Van Cleave knows there are ‘monstros’ in this world, but also disco-glitz riverboats, nuclear green Kool-Aid and ‘D Cup Blondes from Planet Xerxes.’ He weds screwball comedy to sci-fi suspense, generating funny, varicolored poems that careen forward with madcap grace. ‘Welcome back to earth,’ he croons, a place we almost recognize, even if a gas-pumping Frankenstein addresses us earnestly across rows of Cadbury Creme Eggs. Welcome to this place ‘full of teeth and lightning,’ this vale of horror and loveliness.”

—Rachel Loden

“Ryan G. Van Cleave’s Say Hello teems with life like a pit of grass snakes he stumbles upon in the searing poem, ‘Summer Deaths.’...Poems such as the sensual “Willow Herb” buoy up this impressive collection by detailing the life of a woman who lived through Nagasaki and who can still pot bulbs for her neighbor. Throughout Say Hello, Van Cleave’s quick and often skeptical intelligence pulls truth from particulars. By dealing with concrete details of life often in a tone that is casual like conversation with one of his friends such as David Kirby, Van Cleave creates a counterpoint of sight and sound. Central topics and discussions become emblematic of much greater truths as Van Cleave explores the vagaries of human conduct. His words are solid, are true. They not only instruct us, but lead us to wisdom, to compassion for all that is held in the heart.”

—Vivian Shipley

“Ryan G. Van Cleave tells a good story, and tells it vividly. His images have punch. His words crackle with energy. This work reminds me why I first loved poetry.”

—Charles Harper Webb

“We all should be happy to say hello to Ryan G. Van Cleave’s poems, which are consistently surprising and satisfying at the same time, full of vivid stories, rich humor, real characters and an honest passion for life.”

—Peter Meinke

“We meet Ryan G. Van Cleave in these strong poems ‘full of teeth and lightning,’ but his family is the star of this show. In turns a celebration and exorcism of blood, he works knowingly toward a synthesis of the two, admitting ‘This is not freedom. / This is not redemption,’ even while giving us rare glimpses of each.”

—Bob Hicok


Summer Deaths
for Jon Anderson

the year we came
upon the pit of grass
snakes in the forest
preserve, I think
I was still in love
with the wilderness,
with life, its red bushes
nearly gone now to flame.
In airy summer light,
we watched the ground
seethe with green,
such discomfiture
that looked at us,
watched as we ran
and got kerosene
from somewhere,
somehow—the danger
of aimless children always
unseen—and we poured,
filled the whole snakebed
with its stink, its alien wet.
And you, how you pressed
your nose to the ground
like a mole, observing them
as you sparked up
the monogrammed silver
lighter your grandfather
gave you, then dropped it in,
right atop the head of the one
that reared, surprising us.
We leaned close, honest,
seeing our own reflections
in those flames, their orange
story of indifference and ash.


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