September 18th, 2017
“steam rises from the river/like ghosts…I am delivered from a room/I’ll never see again, screaming a sound/still searching for the shape of words.” Cincinnati, D.A. Gray
'Margaret Atwood’s line, “War is what happens when language fails.” But what of those who love language and find themselves in war? Whitman, Tolkien, Cummings, Orwell, Golding, Asimov all show us that war forever changes voice and vision. D.A. Gray’s “Contested Terrain” draws a map of the human heart in an age of conflict. Gray traces clean, simple, powerful lines that chart a territory of loneliness, mourning, hope, love and seeking. The poems in this fine collection cleverly span both a literal geography—the cave country of Kentucky to war in Baghdad and a haunted return to the Texas hills—and a highly-relatable human journey through family relationships, friendships, bureaucracy and social unrest. Some of the stops along the way are hellish—“…bird skin, unlike the human kind,/takes its own sweet time browning over flame.” (The Mortar’s Whistle)—others pastoral, “This is the time of year the sun rests on its darkening/leaves. It is the smell draws me nearer: grass cut,/fruit rot, lilac, cow dung, something I cannot name.” (Chicken Tree) Throughout, Gray proves himself a deft storyteller and shapes words that ring in these times. '
-- Jinn Bug is a poet and visual artist living on the banks of the Ohio River. Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, New Southerner, LEO Weekly, Fiolet & Wing - An Anthology of Domestic Fabulism, Pure Uncut Candy, The Rooted Reader, Aquillrelle and other print and virtual publications. Her current project Disobey-New Poems, co-written with Ron Whitehead, has recently been published by Underground Books.
'Few books capture absence and dislocation as well as Contested Terrain does. Here, a detached boy comes of age in the rural south amidst “the brick edges of a world /eerily absent of lyric”; a deployed soldier showers late at night, “imagin[ing] the hand /running across his scalp to be his wife’s”; and recruits train by shooting at “anonymous /black shapes with no neck.” Indeed, the youth/soldier/veteran who speaks in many of these poems wrestles with these spectral shapes throughout his life, frequently observing, seldom engaging. There are moments of relief—beautiful ones, in which “the beastly /sounds begin to vanish /[and] the moon and stars almost touch our skin”—yet DA Gray never loses sight of the working-class soldier’s struggle with an ambivalent culture. In this era of endless war and unexamined patriotism, Contested Terrain is a necessary book.'
-- Charlie Bondhus is an award-winning poet whose work is featured in four books, including What We Have Learned to Love, How the Boy Might See It, and Monsters and Victims. His most recent book, All The Heat We Could Carry earned the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and the 2014 Thom Gunn Award. Bondhus is the poetry editor at The Good Men Project and teaches literature and writing at Raritan Valley Community College.
'Dwight Gray speaks in a calm voice from a place of silence imposed. His poems are a spider’s thread binding us to each other, creating community in a world sinking into a desperate kind of loneliness. Read them and feel what it is to be human.'
Brady Peterson, From an Upstairs Window
'Gray’s remarkable collection, Contested Terrain, reads like a journey—a private and personal one, but also communal and distinctly American. Through these tightly crafted poems taut with specific detail and vivid imagery, one is taken on a ride through the terrains of memory and history, across battlefields and down backroads, before ultimately returning with new insights on the American identity and the very idea of home.'
-Ryan Bayless, Associate Professor of English and Fine Arts, Texas A&M University-Central Texas