So This Poet Joins the Military Police…
Ex-Milwaukeean Rick Ryan returns for a reading from his new book, ‘There’s a Man with a Gun Over There.’
Rick Ryan, who writes under the more economical name R.M. Ryan, has been writing poetry since his college days in the 1960s. He abandoned work on a Ph.D. in English to become a stock broker and wrote poetry on the side until retiring, when he was able to devote more time to writing. Now living in California, Ryan lived most of his life in Milwaukee, where he wrote well-received art reviews for both Milwaukee Magazine and Metro Milwaukee Weekly.
Ryan’s first volume of poems, Goldilocks in Later Life, was published in 1980 by Louisiana State University Press, which later published Vaudeville in the Dark, bringing together poems written over the last 30 years, in 2010. The book won a review from the New York Times, no small feat, which noted the antic atmosphere of the poems: “There are all kinds of exquisite corpses: …a headless chicken high-stepping it toward an alley and mice laced with cancers in no-nonsense labs, ’49 Mercs and ’57 Fords, not to mention vaudeville itself,” reviewer Dana Jennings noted.
Author Carol Posgrove, who writes a well-done blog on writers’ lives, notes that “Ryan’s poems are not for the faint of heart. They saunter, they soar, they dive down to despair.”
For years, Ryan had wanted to write about his experience serving in the military during the Vietnam era, from 1969-1972, and his latest book is an autobiographical novel with the arresting title, There’s a Man with a Gun Over There. Ryan managed to avoid fighting in combat, and served in Germany, but that turned out to be more daunting and emotionally harrowing than he expected. “Ryan got from Wisconsin to Germany, working his assignments while the Baader-Meinhof gang carries out their ultraviolence nearby,” Kirkus Reviews notes. “He’s trained as a military policeman… under a diverse rogue’s gallery of commanders. Weird side note: He talks to Albert Speer in his dreams. The married but unfaithful Ryan also takes a lover who threatens him with retribution from her Baader-Meinhof friends.”
As the review in Publisher’s Weekly noted, “the book’s message is clear and repeated throughout the book: the Army is not a game, and no matter what you tell yourself to get through it, you are still a trained killer. Ryan offers a side to Vietnam that most people don’t see… he drives his points home about the dangers of the military and how it affects people.”
In what is a homecoming of sorts, Ryan will be reading from his new book at Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., on Tuesday May 19, at 7:00 pm.