There is truth to the notion that the written word, especially poetry, is somewhat of a lost art. Fortunately for us, there is one man who embraces poetry and has decided to share his personal contribution to the art with the world – literally. He has left his books in public all around the globe for people to find, read, and leave for someone else to find.
And trust me when I tell you that should you stumble upon Ray Buckley’s “Magnesium,” it is your lucky day.
Buckley was kind enough to give me copies, so I didn’t need to go about it the hard way. After reading it for myself, I can tell you that “Magnesium” is a collection of thoughts and feelings, conversations he has both with himself as well as others, and much more. Though written separately and over the course of 10 years, everything seems to fit together into one hauntingly beautiful puzzle.
When reading “Magnesium,” it feels like you are being let in on a secret – like having the privilege of reading someone else’s most private journal. It’s incredibly raw and relatable. His pain is peppered with humor, which will allow you to read the book time and time again, and find different meanings and interpretations each time. Buckley bares his soul in this work, and we are along for the ride as he shares his tumultuous journey.
For that, Ray, we say thank you.
Marie Tabela: What inspired you to write “Magnesium”?
Ray Buckley: The inspiration is a little bit hard to identify what it was specifically at first, because it was more an impulse than it was a calculated choice. (Laughing) It’s largely personal penitence for questionable actions.
MT (laughing): Fair enough! I think we all have one or two of those in our past. You have several of these copies of “Magnesium” around the world, correct?
MT: And you leave a note on it, and people take it, read it, write their own note on it when they are done, and leave it somewhere else?
RB: Some people leave notes on them. I left that up to everyone involved. I had 40-something people involved I believe, but I could be wrong about that, and it was very open-ended and up to them. Julienne (our mutual badass media consultant extraordinaire and friend) had encouraged people to leave hashtags on them. I think the original reason for doing that was because marketing poetry seems like a contradiction to me, but I wanted there to be a way for people to find it without betraying the poetry. I’m taking far too much credit though, it was mostly Julienne’s idea.
MT: Where has the book been so far?
RB: Japan, Sweden, several parts of Mexico, a few places in France, Scotland, Canada both the far East and Western sides, Montreal, Hawaii of course, all over the United States, Oregon, California, New York, Texas, North Carolina, Montana, Colorado … I’ve lost track of all of the states!
MT: That’s amazing. And how did they all get to those places? Did you have friends start it off?
RB: I had friends help, as well as friends of friends, and I scoured Craigslist and did a post in every state. I think 10 of the people were from Craigslist.
MT: How do you keep track of the books?
RB: By whoever finds them. I’ve gotten a few messages. In Germany, someone found a copy in front of the Brandenburg Gate and sent me a personal message with a photo of the book. It’s sort of like they just pop up on the Internet. We’ve tracked four that have been found so far.
MT: How many are out there?
RB: Around 60.
MT: Did you write all of the poetry?
MT: What types of subjects do they cover?
RB: It’s hard to say. Some of them are very short, some are very long, some are in prose style. I have a hard time always talking about the work because in a strange way, the best description is just what’s written in the book itself.
MT: What level will it appeal to people emotionally? Anger? Heartbreak? Happiness? All of the above?
RB: It’s such a wide array. It’s an entire spectrum of emotions. I’ve heard it being described as very chaotic. There is a lot about loss. It’s more of a documentation and record than anything else of sensation, experience, confusion and incompetence. There’s a small introduction where I attempt to actually answer that question, and I come to a very quick conclusion that the book is more of a catalogue and the last paragraph of the introduction says I basically can’t answer that question, I can’t examine a text I wrote myself. It’s something I have to leave up to someone much more shrewd than myself.
MT: What’s your end goal for this project?
RB: I want to populate my own personal existence with as much romance and poetry as I possibly can. Existence and modernity can sometimes betray romanticism and it’s something I work very hard to hold on to. It’s a bit like adorning one’s house with flowers. It’s a last recourse to maintain a quality that perhaps domesticity has lost. It’s mostly a selfish desire.
MT: I don’t think it’s selfish. I think the world could use a little more of that. How do you see the project evolving over time?
RB: I honestly have no idea, and if I did, I probably never would have done it. I think in a certain respect, all art has an aspect of communication in it, if not that being its only quality. It’s a form of language, and I guess trying to relate to other human beings and recognize and truly see one another.
MT: When did you start writing poetry for “Magnesium”?
RB: There are pieces of this book that are at least 10 years old. There’s a vast portion of it which I wrote over the course of the last three or four years, I’d say.
MT: Have you always written poetry?
RB: When I was writing this, I didn’t even realize it was poetry. It just sort of became poetry. I don’t really know what medium I’m writing for when I’m writing, and that may be apparent in the form of the book. There are pieces that are dialogues and conversations, and there are others in a traditional prose style. I don’t think I ever consciously intended to write a book of poetry. It’s a catalogue of broken pieces that have ideas and events in common with each other, but in combination are nothing more than a mosaic. I was somewhat surprised to discover that it was poetry.
MT: When you were writing and started putting it together, did you consciously know you wanted to publish it?
RB: I suppose an aspect of it is posterity. Everyone wants proof of their existence, and I think for some I guess it seems there is a difference between the creation of a piece of artwork and its exhibition or its presentation. For me, they are very inextricably tied. I don’t think there was ever any intention of keeping this private. I think even just the act of putting it on the page is a declaration of intention to have it, in some form or another, seen.
MT: Are you working on any other written word projects?
RB: I am currently writing a second book of some kind.
MT: Do you think you’re going to go about it the same way of having it travel the world?
RB: Probably, yes.
MT: Why the title “Magnesium”?
RB (laughing): That’s probably the hardest question you could have asked me. Ask me again in 10 years. I honestly don’t know yet!
MT: So there was no basis? You just picked a word out of thin air?
RB: No, there was a reason, it’s just that there were several and they were all so subconscious and hard to trace, and I could not give you a clear indication of why. I’m basically waiting for someone to explain to me why I chose it.
MT: Do you think they could get that reason by reading the book?
RB: Yes, probably better than I could. My own psyche is hard enough to navigate! It’s a word that remained with me for a very long time over the course of writing what ultimately ended up being the text for “Magnesium,” and it kept serving, but it never ultimately remained in any of the text that entered this book, or eventually constituted this book.
MT: What other types of writing do you do?
RB: When I write, I really don’t know what it’s going to be. I never sit down and consciously decide to write a book or write a screenplay. It’s more of a collection of pieces. I have very little control over what it is that I produce. I feel like if I make too many conscious choices while producing any type of artwork. I end up committing a lot of folly.
MT: So this is more like a stream of consciousness?
RB: Yeah, it is.
MT: Is there anything about this book that you really want people to know?
RB: Just that it exists.
If you do not happen to stumble upon “Magnesium” in your travels, it is also available for purchase on Amazon.