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Witty muse


October 2013

Charles Ries began writing during his mid-40s and has more than 200 published works.



Poet and author Charles Ries of Milwaukee is well aware of the warnings that "serious writers" donít write cat poems, but he just couldnít help himself. Heíd taken good care of his daughterís cat, and watched as she had her one chance to escape into the wide world, but hesitated, and made her choice to stay.

Ries grew up on a mink farm in Sheboygan, "so my relationship with animals is kind of weird," he says. But Princess "kind of adopted me," and when she died, Ries says, "tears came out of nowhere." His poem about her, "My Catís Human," took second place in a major writing competition and is included in his latest collection, "Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love."

"The poems go back 15 years, and were extracted from about 500 total," Ries says. "I feel collections should have sort of a thematic focus. One of my thematic focuses is this mash-up of the vernacular and sacred."

"Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love" focuses on love in its many incarnations.

"I thought, ĎLet me just pull all of these observations Iíve collected about love, try to keep it universal and funny, colloquial and common in a way, very accessible and readable.í As I was culling through this work, these were the things that fell out," Ries says.

The result, he says, is a meditation on love from the point of view from a middle-aged man.

"I value love so differently now, I donít take it for granted," Ries says. "When I was young, it was a lot of hormones and a lot of feverish, mindless activity sometimes. But everything I do know is with much more presence of mind."

His presence in the creative writing world is ubiquitous. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in more than 200 publications. His book, "The Fathers We Find," is a novel based on memory. Ries has received four nominations for the prestigious Pushcart Prize and was awarded the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association Jade Ring Award for humorous writing.

"What I try to find in writing is those sort of quirky, weird, offbeat moments ó these odd, out-of-time experiences in line in the grocery store or a guy eating waffles in a weird way; these moments that have a curiosity in an odd way," he says.

Ries works in the University Advancement Department at Marquette University. He recently took a sabbatical from writing, channeling his creative spirit into gardening for himself and for friends. Both writing and gardening, he says, require ruthless editing in order for the writerís and gardenerís voice to be heard.

"Gardening is my other favorite compulsion," he says. "I think itís consuming."


This story ran in the October 2013 issue of: