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Randi Ward: A W.Va. Poet Who Truly Cares

By Staff | Jul 15, 2008

By the look of her, there’s nothing that suggests lonesome traveler, multilingual poet or even experimental photographer.  But Randi Ward, also known as Randi Ryggi to her poet friends in the Faroe Islands where she went to graduate school, is all of these things and more.

She is of slight build, with a subtle demeanor that takes some time getting used to. Very friendly and very curious, she has the right sensibility in terms of what makes a poet a poet.

For one, she cares about people, as her education in anthropology obviously suggests.  She’s also a huge participant in the ongoing struggle to link photographic imagery and meaningful lyricism together to make a unified whole.

“I’m really fascinated by the things that people leave behind,” says Ward, whose photographs contain a dark element of cultural decay and isolation.

In her first book of poetry, “Meditations on Salt,” published in the Faroe Islands under her auspicious pseudonym, numerous panoramas of unending hillsides and decrepit architecture are the standard.  It’s in no way a limited palette, as it fuels her melancholic, yet inventive, prose.

“I’m melancholy by nature. Not in a bad way, but in a sort of existential way,” says Ward, almost assuring herself that bliss and sadness are inseparable. “I have an eye for irony and the really cruel things people do to each other in their everyday life.”

Her subject matter varies. She touches on everything from the vast and unwavering beauty of the Faroes, a chain of islands off the coast of Denmark and Iceland, to her own experience growing up in Belleville, W.Va.

“I just like to read landscapes in terms of people.”

The irony? Oddly enough, not one photograph in her book actually contains a person.  This is deliberate, seeing as she’s very much focused on amplifying her own spiritual isolation through the dead rural scenery of the Faroes and the visual evidence of the country’s economic disparity.

In one of her poems, entitled “A Faroese Fisherman Speaks of Drowning,” she delves into the dulled psyche of a working class fisherman. She basically transcribes the fisherman’s long, drunken dialogue and then attaches a singsong ending that almost seems too cutesy — “At that, he drew a bottle from his coat / then stumbled back into his motorboat.” 

The juxtaposition of the two conflicting forms is a style inherently her own.

“The Faroes are a bleak and lonely place, but I’d say the quality of interaction people have with each other there is so much different because you have to interact with people all the time,” says Ward.

This is especially true for a country with roughly 50,000 inhabitants.  But according to Ward, it fits her like a glove.

“I’m better at being alone than most people, and that’s a real gift.”

The book has established her alongside many great Faroese poets, some of which have failed to receive the praise they deserve due to the geographic obscurity of the Faroes.  She’s also just put the finishing touches on a lengthy index of Faroese authors, and she even got to write her own short biography for the project, something that she relishes.

Her recent photo exhibit at Sozo cafÎ in Morgantown drew a lot of attention, and she sold a good portion of her material to admiring art lovers. 

Some of the proceeds went to the Appalachian Prison Book Project, headed by West Virginia University English professors Katy Ryan and Mark Brazaitis.

Ward thinks of it as an important cause.

“It’ll help prisoners receive the resources they need to better themselves.”

Ward is scheduled to return to the Faroe Islands in late July, where she will begin another research project.

To find out more about Randi Ward, visit www.randiward.com.

Contact Patrick at pdolan@graffitiwv.com