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The Best of It: New and Selected Poems Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 23, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ryan, the current U.S. poet laureate, may well be the oddest and wisest poet to hold that prestigious post. Her tiny, skinny poems pack a punch unlike anything else in contemporary poetry, though not unlike haiku, if haiku could be cut with a dash of Groucho Marx. This, her first retrospective volume, which also contains a book's worth of new poems, is a much-needed introduction to the work of one of our best and most accessible poets. She asks the necessary questions hiding just beneath the obvious ones: Why isn't it all/ more marked,/ why isn't every wall/ graffitied, every park tree/ stripped/... / Not why people are; why not more violent? Odd rhymes draw crystal clear relations between disparate thoughts we never realized had always gone together: As/ though our garden/ could be one bean/ and we'd rejoice if/ it flourishes, as/ though one bean/ could nourish us. Pithy poems manage to encapsulate far more than their few words should be able to hold, as in Bitter Pill, a new poem: A bitter pill/ doesn't need/ to be swallowed/ to work. Just/ reading your name/ on the bottle/ does the trick. Sassy, smart, and deep as they are hilarious, Ryan's poems are among the best. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* This ample but representative collection should attract new readers curious about the work of America’s current poet laureate and should also satisfy those familiar with Ryan’s conversational but tightly wrought poems. Her strength lies in creating short-lined poems that slide past the reader like notes from a journal but that, unlike many such efforts, are not merely self-indulgent anecdotes or predictable bromides. Rather, readers find surprise arising from each incident or pondering, creating an effect like that of the classical Zen haiku that starts out commonplace and rises to philosophical heights. Ryan’s observation of a spider weaving begins with a comment on how “from other / angles the / fibers look / fragile,” then embeds itself in the spider’s own viewpoint, from which those fibers are “coarse ropes” requiring “heavy work” to get in place in the web. The point of this close reading of insect life reveals itself in the last lines: “It / isn’t ever / delicate / to live.” Ryan’s work is best read slowly and observing intervals between poems, for the similarity of form among them risks dulling the attention when they are read one quickly after another. Also, her work, consistently excellent as it is, deserves careful reading. --Patricia Monaghan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1 edition (March 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802119148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119148
  • ASIN: 080211914X
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #991,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Cal Emery on May 2, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I want to second everything John-Michael Albert says in his review and ask "Why just 3 stars, if you 'really like these poems'?"

Ryan's word play is both a constant delight and a Trojan horse for her remarkable insights. Preview as many of the poems as Amazon allows, read them slowly, be on the lookout for both her gamesmanship and her meaning. If you enjoy the preview, the rest of the volume will not disappoint.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Poetic Novice on January 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm a graduate student who enjoys reading but was never interested in poetry. I discovered Kay Ryan after reading a New Yorker review which included a few lines that (unlike almost anything I had ever read before) really drew me in -- so much that, after reading a few more of Ryan's poems that I found online, I went out and bought this book.

It's sort of hard to express how grateful I am to have discovered Ryan's poems. In english classes in high school and college, I was generally bored with poetry, I couldn't really get into it. But for some reason Ryan's poems were completely accessible to me -- I find them almost impossible not to enjoy. I think their brevity makes them approachable for an unseasoned poetry reader. More importantly, the sly use of language (lots of almost-rhymes), and the fertile ideas and deep wisdom that emerge with re-reading them is simply an absolute joy. I had no idea I could get this sort of satisfaction out of poetry, and since discovering Kay Ryan, I've branched out and discovered that I can get the same kind of enjoyment from other poetry as well.

The poems are so short I've actually memorized some of them and have occasionally shared them with friends and family (when doing so didn't seem unbearably pretentious) and, in my experience, other poetic novices have been similarly hooked by the lure of Ryan's verse. As such, I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who might benefit from discovering for the first time the unique joy of reading poetry.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By bookkook on April 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm just half through with the book however I am enjoying it so much I feel compelled to post.

As a reader I deeply want to develop critical skills for reading poetry, and to have the same experience that I've had with good books, which is to finish with some insight that I can apply to my life and some emotion that I remember long after the book is shelved (or filed, these days). Poetry has eluded me for the most part- I've been very happy with some poems, the majority of them confuse me or leave me nonplussed. This has been a life long struggle for me. It's annoying to feel as if you don't "get it", in any context.

These poems are a literal representation of what the poet sees, amazingly devoid of emotion for the most part - the reader is invited to react from personal experience. I clearly understand what she is describing on every line, and in most poems I can relate and I am moved. When I have no personal basis to relate to the poem I am still happy to view clear expression of the language, rather like a painting of somewhere I've not been to yet.

Another reviewer here suggested taking advantage of the preview before purchasing - I took the advice, and will take this opportunity to affirm the suggestion, and heartily recommend this book, even for poetry novices.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Hart on March 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
I fell in love with this book....and I don't usually find much poetry that interests me. I could hardly put the book down...the poems are beautifully expressed, with humor and intelligence. The rhyme is unusual and cleverly done. Iwant to go back and reread every one.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful By John Michael Albert on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the episode on Emily Dickinson, the PBS Series Voices and Visions took great pains to make three points about her background. Dickinson lived in an age when everyone lived in the constant company of Death, and she lived in an age when all youths were encouraged to be voraciously curious about nature. Add the omnipresence of Protestant hymnody in the lives of everyone in New England with its implicit poetic form and, like flour, milk and eggs to a cake, you have the three main ingredients of Dickinson's poetry. [P] It wasn't until I made this connection (thanks to a jacket note by J. D. McClatchy in the current volume) that I felt I was ready to enter the kitchen with Kay Ryan. I think she is a poet who, deliberately or not, has reincarnated the spirit of Dickinson in the late 20th century and, to make sure I don't go too far with the comparison, summoned that spirit on the opposite coast. No great preachments here. Personal observations, usually brightened with the presence of a birdy, a bunny, or a bivalve but especially birds (particular birds as well as wings, feathers, eggs an eggshells, flight, nest etc.). [P] And all peppered with an appreciation for the shimmering verbal effect of internal rhymes and off-rhymes. All the poems in this collection are a page long or less, which focuses my attention on form, which seems to be the focus of Ryan at her most playful. Take, for instance, her drive-by sonnet, "Full Measure," a sonnet in the progress of its argument, a sonnet in its fourteen-line length. Imitating the `jangling sack-full-of-keys' relentless rhymes of a sonnet, she scatters off rhymes throughout, like tart bits of lemon zest in a poppy seed cake: measure, favors, another, water, flavor, butter, pressure, shatter and nature.Read more ›
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