Balefire: Poems



Balefire is Shann Ray’s debut book of poems, and contains a range of lyric and narrative poetry that challenges the complexities of gender, race, and loss. He returns to the rugged masculinity encountered in his earlier American Book Award winning collection of short stories, American Masculine. Paul Constant of Seattle’s alt weekly, The Stranger, said Ray’s work is about “violence, Montana, and sweet, sweet love.”

Named a finalist with Ted Kooser’s Splitting an Order and Erin Belieu’s Slant Six, Ray’s Balefire won the High Plains Book Award in Poetry.  His work offers a domesticity met by wilderness and a wildness entangled with the intimacy of home.  Balefire considers the country a man travels to regain himself, and the desolation he experiences in stumbling toward an experience of the feminine no longer defined by apathy, violence, or greed.  The poems in Balefire affirm love and beauty, refined by the fires of the contemporary American West.





with Erin Belieu’s Slant Six and Ted Kooser’s Splitting an Order *


Buy Now

indie's first logo



“In Shann Ray’s collection, Balefire, one senses always the poet’s tender regard for family as well as the forces of nature that flesh, flame, and fray each human relationship.”

 —Sandra Alcosser, A Fish to Feed All Hunger


“From tenderness to violence, to something impossible to name, Shann Ray offers his readers a new kind of lyric. These poems stand as chiseled testaments to the heart’s survival; from a father’s fists like windmills to a wife’s surprising power. This marvelous collection is filled with spare poems that accrue and steadily grow into knowledge—the kind of knowledge that tastes of blue spruce and rough-hewed redemption. A riveting poetic debut.”

 —Susan Rich, The Alchemist’s Kitchen


“A celebration of the intricacies of love. Shann Ray’s Balefire is visionary—a powerful and moving visit to the places that haunt us.”

—Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red 


“American Book Award winner Shann Ray’s Balefire is bound by themes of masculinity. And in some ways it’s a Western. Many of the poems are set in Montana and the setting lends a certain severity. In “He Rides,” Ray tells of a man punching another guy in the face. “He likes especially/the sound these make/as they give way, the sound/of cartilage and how the skin slits open.” But in none of these poems is the aggressor rewarded for his violence — he doesn’t look cool. In many ways, it’s the anti-Western.”

— Mike Bookey, The Pacific Northwest Inlander


“Poetry full of color, warmth, and depth. Ray continues to work material of the same austere beauty as his short story collection, American Masculine. Stories of domestic life, both good and very bad, take place against a backdrop of the Montana landscape.  I particularly enjoyed the alternation between poems with long, luxurious lines, and briefer, almost aphoristic lines. One can extract from poems a line here or there, and set those brief lines in a frame to be enjoyed. Here’s two:
on the lips of a lover/rough honey
as the autumn trees/carrying dusk in their arms
Were Shann Ray’s poems to survive in fragments, like a latter-day Sappho, a few lines like these quickly convey his sensitivity, sense of language, and vision. Highly recommended!”

—Marc Fox, Feriatus


“Shann Ray brings to American poetry a voice that is at once rugged and unapologetically vulnerable. In these poems, Ray writes with the same incisive eye that has won him so much praise for his fiction, but with an even sharper ear. Like any decent bluesman, Shann knows when to wail, when to whisper, and when to let the silences do their own damn work. Here, folks, is an able and true ‘vessel for the song of this world.'”

 —John Murillo, Up Jump the Boogie


“It is tempting to call Shann Ray his generation’s heir to the literary legacy of Richard Hugo and James Welch, except that he writes from a largeness of spirit all his own. The poems in his debut volume, Balefire, resonate with emotional and sensual precision. They compel us to inhabit lives—of the despondent, the brutal, the selfish and disloyal—from which we are too eager to turn, too ready to dismiss as incapable of humanity and unworthy of grace. Ray teaches us, or perhaps more hopefully reminds us, better. These wise, tender, sober, luminous poems range over landscapes at turns stark and vast, then lush and intimate to find the heart’s domesticity in wilderness, its wildness in home.”

—Jonathan Johnson, Mastedon, 80% Complete


“Shann Ray’s new collection of poems is an exhibit of portraits; surfaces of the paintings are at the same time tender, violent, intimate and mythic. Layered behind these figures is the vista of the monumental Montana sky. The landscape invades upon our deeper selves; and the portraits invite us into a familial conversation. Somehow, despite the pain and sorrow, we are allowed to bask in the expanse of the azurite sky.”

—Makoto Fujimura, Refractions