“I’m writing all this down,” Ralph Pennel says at the end of his frightening and beautiful poem “Just Off The Hennepin Bridge”: and he is writing it all down, a world haunted by both beauty and despair. Again and again Pennel returns to the theme that echoes throughout the book, “the great immeasurable hole /that only love lost can make.” What a wonderful task to set yourself as a poet, to take the measure of the immeasurable as best you can and to call this impossible task—this ache you feel for the world—by its true name: love.
—Jim Moore, author of Invisible Strings
Ralph Pennel’s poems situate us front and center in the speaker’s intimate company. In a few humble, trust-earning gestures, Pennel can take us great, often dark, distances. “Confiding in the Prison Guard,” written in the voice of John the Baptist on the eve of his execution, risks the one harrowing image after another in service to empathy far transcending them; the poem closes with a devastatingly vernacular plea. Whether he is slipping in and out of personae with the ease of a shape shifter, or serving his subjects as a caring spy, Ralph Pennel has reminded this reader that the single, irrefutable craft of poetry is graceful connection.
—Frannie Lindsay, author of Our Vanishing
In the opening poem of Ralph Pennel’s debut collection, the speaker lists things he looks for in a poem: “Clear blue light / A single voice, cold, in need of fire” and “Everything I have ever buried,” making a concise introduction to A WORLD LESS PERFECT FOR DYING IN—a world which is, after all, the imperfect but beautiful place where we live and die. “But I believe that we all, at the very least, should have some. Beauty, that is.” That persistent belief in beauty and the simple kindnesses that one human being can offer another suffuses these poems—often filled with pain and loss—with something like light.
—Joyce Sutphen, Poet Laureate of MN, author of Naming the Stars