A remarkable debut collection about identical twin sisters and their parents’ struggle with addiction. Read More
“I am busy seeing,” declares the reverent and ever-curious speaker of Mustard, Milk, and Gin. In this haunting debut, Megan Denton Ray unflinchingly sifts through the sediment of a girlhood ruled by service. Everything in these poems sweats—the sunflower working hard for its first pair of leaves, the sister feeding her twin like a father, the men and women working in a community ravaged by the opioid crisis. With tender restraint, Ray’s poems question the infallibility of devoutness while finding solace in the classification of the natural world. What results is a powerhouse voice that chooses preservation above all else. No poppy, wild carrot, or honeycomb is too small a treasure as Ray weaves stories of loss and mercy through both dreamscapes and domestic scenes alike. The forgettable and forgotten ignite—these poems are gifts of curiosity and care.
"Mustard, Milk, and Gin belongs to the poetic genre of Southern feminist noir, running perhaps from Judy Jordan down through Carolyn Hembree and Melissa Range. What distinguishes Megan Ray’s lyric gift is her eye for the perfect telling detail, 'My grease' (after a shower) that 'calls out I am, I am, I am,' or the claim (later in the same poem) that 'Here, / God holds his candle to my candle, a leopard-print votive / with the fizz of a damp rocket.' These are ecstatic poems, not poems that proceed from ecstatic experience, rather poems that conjure their own difficult, often violently flawed ecstasies through the power of language and voice." —G.C. Waldrep, prize judge
"Tension builds throughout, but Ray isn’t showing off her wounds. She lets her writing, not her subject, do the work, and she slides into her observations as if she were sliding smoothly into water. Skilled, plangent writing, and the tragedy of addiction in the family adds currency." —Library Journal
"If a poem’s pleasure, and instruction, is divided between the ear, the brain, and the heart, what wild fortune to discover a poet like Megan Denton Ray with such prodigious gifts across all three. The rhythms in Mustard, Milk, & Gin are somehow both demotic and oracular, caught between the mountain sounds of Appalachia and the music of the Psalms. The mind of these poems is powerful, driving, ever in motion leaping from line to line, form to form. And the heart, the massive thrashing heart here! Ray whips its living throb every which way, including straight toward you, lucky reader: 'Ghost-heart of this place, this dream, I give it a shove and it lifts off.'" —Kaveh Akbar, author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf
"The poems in Megan Denton Ray’s gorgeous debut Mustard, Milk, & Gin bear witness to the natural and unnatural worlds with kind translucence: to swirling bees and begonias, to lost mothers and their jewelry, to the earth and the things we carefully take from it. It’s almost impossible to hold the divine and the earthly in the same hand, but these poems do so, balancing the need to sing with the need to wonder inside of their lyric murmurations. All the while these delicate poems make a litany out of the world around us, bringing our hearts and ears into the terrestrial rustlings." —Adrian Matejka, author of Map to the Stars
"To read Megan Denton Ray's debut is to feast with all the senses; in her hands, memories—even painful ones—burst with metaphor, each poem lush with colors, sounds, flora, and flavors. Raw okra, lemon curd, milk, piles of plums, egg yolks, macaroni and cheese in jadeite bowls—the speaker looks upon her body's desires for these and other things and finds them good, asking, 'Is my hunger not made by God?' Persisting past trauma into joy, Ray takes the world on her tongue and crafts a theology of resurrection from a shattered Eden."—Melissa Range, author of Scriptorium
"'Listen to the cows. The one hawk. The thinly sliced beating heart … I catch a glimpse of myself,' this poet says or sings, shouts or whispers. And so this book of glimpses unravels and builds via invention, risk, and beauty to seal up treasure in and out of a dark clarity, welcoming strange gods and angels from her 'trouble house,' and an ordinary life we all recall, cut with serious dream. The crown of the book? Megan Ray's crown of sonnets to her twin, all the way from the womb and back, full of now and forever, brilliant poems that will last." —Marianne Boruch, author of The Anti-Grief