Land, Literature, and Life: All I Want to Do is Live by Trace Ramsey

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all i want to do is live by trace ramsey

Most of the books I read can be put into two categories: young adult or Stephen King. Every once in a while, though, I’ll branch out, for one reason or another. In this instance, All I Want to Do is Live was a publishing project I chose to back on Hatchfund, a Kickstarter-like project funding site—and of course I went for the bound book copy reward.

All I Want to Do is Live is a collection of essays, creative nonfiction, and poetry. It’s made up considerably of selected pieces from author Trace Ramsey’s zines, some of which appear both in their original zine or chapbook form and in adapted/expanded versions later on in the book.

Part one consists of selected pieces from Ramsey’s nonfiction chapbooks and zines, and Ramsey’s storytelling within these essays is striking. He crafts vivid scenes of rural life in beautiful, horrifying ways, which aren’t likely to be easily forgotten. One notable event is his effort to butcher a roadkill deer he found, the attempt quickly going awry. Among the rich description of solo survival, though, Ramsey makes reference to why he’s doing this—his internal motivations—and he does so without making the piece feel disjointed or awkward. Many pieces in the collection have this back and forth between the internal and external; I couldn’t help noting as I read that Ramsey’s smooth style would make an excellent example for anyone looking to study creative nonfiction.

Among part two, the poetry selections, there are a number of amazing, thoughtful pieces, from the likes of “Baby #1” and “Baby #2” to “Homeless” and “Roaches.” A personal favorite within the section is “Planning,” which examines assumptions surrounding the potential of tragedy and the aftermath. It’s a short piece, but powerful in its brevity. As with much poetry, each piece in the section benefits from a reread and even a read aloud. The language twists in a way that at first can be puzzling—if beautiful—and isn’t that just the way of poetry?

A prominent, recurring theme throughout the collection is Ramsey’s interest in and affection for birds. Their presence seems to permeate nearly every piece, even in a simple passing mention of a bird’s song or their appearance flitting through a scene. I don’t put much credit into the idea that themes, motifs, and the like are always a result of author intention, but I do think that the birds, in general, speak to a variety of habits, ideas, and experiences: The prominence of the rural in Ramsey’s life, the comfort of the familiar in the midst of a struggle, and the constant underlying presence of his depression.

Part three of the collection, essays and flash nonfiction, contains one of the most impactful pieces: “Farthing Street.” This essay focuses on the birth of Ramsey’s second child and the ensuing post-partum depression he experiences, something not often talked about in terms of the father. It connects so many aspects of the collection together to discuss Ramsey’s depression, approaching it medically as necessary (and how that relates to an at times “crunchy” lifestyle, and birth process in particular), and examining how it affects and relates to his status as a new father. It’s a thorough, passionate piece, raw and quiet, yet still powerful, with its closing line the collection’s title in bold, “All I want to do is live.” It’s a piece that made me take a moment, take a deep breath, and hold the book to my chest as I braced myself in recovery.

All I Want to Do is Live is just beautiful, inside and out. From the texture of the tricolor cover to the vulnerability and honesty of the contents within. Trace Ramsey’s collection is a powerful work of art that I’m so proud to support.

July 7, 2017
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