Ray McNiece

Ray McNiece has earned a national reputation as a poet and performer for almost two decades through his solo theater pieces, his poetry and music shows, his captaining of two National Poetry Slam Championship teams, his "edutaining" children's shows and workshops, and his yearly country-wide tours of performance poems, stories and songs.

Ray is the author of six poetry books – Dis, The Bone-Orchard Conga, The Road that Carried Me Here, Song that Fathoms Home, Wet Sand Raven Tracks – New Haiku, and Us? Talking Across America, two solo theatre works – DisVoices From a Shelter, Us? Talking Across America, two music/poetry collaborations – Mouth Music, A Rust bowl Hootenanny, and one collaborative theatre work – Homegirl meets Whiteboy -- with Shawn Jackson. He also co-edited the anthology of Contemporary Buddhist Poetry, America Zen. The Orlando Sentinel reporting on Ray’s solo show at the Fringe Festival called him “a modern day descendant of Woody Guthrie. He has a way with words and a wry sense of humor.” In a review of his second theatre work, Us? Talking Across America, the Star-Phoenix said, “His thoughtful writing combines with perfectly timed delivery to create a powerful wordscape that owes as much to jazz as drama.” He was the voice of Woody Guthrie in WCPN/NPR’s award winning radio documentary, Hard Travellin’.

Highlights of his recent tours include a keynote address shared with Robert Bly at the First Coast Writer’s Conference, a featured reading at the opening of City Light’s Italia in Florence with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and a performance with his band Tongue in Groove at the Starwood Festival, opening for legendary drummer Babatunde Oluntunje. In the summer of 2001 he toured Russia with Yevgeny Yevtushenko where he appeared on Good Morning, Russia and performed at the Moscow Polytech, the Russian Poets’ Hall of Fame where he was dubbed ‘the American Mayakovski’.

He has received numerous awards for his writing and performance, most recently the 2001 Hart Crane Award from KSU, a residency in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and a residency at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. He was the captain of two National Poetry Slam Championship teams (’92 Boston, ’94 Cleveland) and won the Arkansas Grand Slam, the largest performance poetry prize ever awarded.

Ray is also an accomplished actor and has appeared in plays at Ensemble, Dobama, Cleveland Public and Cleveland Playhouse theatres. He was an original cast member of the improv comedy Flanigan’s Wake. He performs in schools as Johnny Appleseed and Thomas Jefferson.

Offical site





Tasting What of the Sun We Can
by Ray McNiece

At the end of summer the last
of the tall grass stems yellow and hollow.
Rafts of ironweed and goldenrod
cluster over the field, and we both
recite their names, assuring each other.
We pick bristleberries that absorbed
their fill of the sun's pulses
and smash them between roof and tongue,
tasting what of the sun we can.
We spit - ripe is a day sooner than rotten.

I snap a black, fallen branch open
and smell the inside's incense
and hold the cherrywood out to you.
You draw in, then exhale, nodding good,
agreeing to what is passing.


by Ray McNiece

Kerouac we knock
Your pickled bones together
Tibetan Be-bop

one redwing blackbird
calls through the stand of bare trees
along the gray road

march sun on the sill,
translucent wafer of ice
floats in a saucer

how can it be now
as march icicles drip,
I find a gray hair

gusts of cold march wind
shiver red oak leaves still
clinging to branches

on the stream bottom
a quarter glints – water too cold
and deep to reach it


Whither Goest Thou, America?
by Ray McNiece

On the corner of Shady Lane and Clausen
stands the house where Kerouac was living
when on the On the Road was published
to widespread acclaim and overnight
he was proclaimed, King of the Beats,
a title he never wanted and came to regret.

I walk with the ghost of Jack Kerouac
through after-midnight streets of College Park.
America stays transfixed inside
where everyone can hide their suicides
in the blue flame of samsara
as Jack recites his beat sutras --

Whither goest thou, America
in thy shiny car in the night?

in your mad pursuit of happiness
did you lose true freedom’s sight?

In the Nineteen-Fifties, mushroom clouds
bloomed in the cold war heart of the desert,
senators scratched out red list names
of everyone who did not think the same,
and the Russians launched Sputnik into space
as Jack walked towards inner peace –

He walks tonight past neatly fenced lawns,
past barking guard dogs forgiven.
He walks beyond any beatnik fame
refusing to play celebrity’s game.
He walks past bigger and better cars
howling off to god knows where –

Who can know the world as it goes?
Who can hear the full moon’s horn blow?
Who will heed the call and ride the rails
of boxcars echoing Orange Blossom trail?
O who will simply sit still and vision
this earth brimming with heaven?

I walk with the ghost of Jack Kerouac
through after-midnight streets of College Park
as America stays transfixed inside
where everyone can hide their suicides
in the blue flame of samsara
as Jack recites his beat sutras.

Whither goest thou, America,
in thy shiny car in the night?

In your mad pursuit of happiness
did you lose true freedom’s sight?