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The Best of It: New and Selected Poems Paperback – April 2, 2011
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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This incredible writer has been Poet Laureate of the United States for a reason. No,for many many reasons. The brevity and clarity of her poems become miniature masterpieces of thought and narrative. How does one manage to write so much in such few lines? Ah, there is the magic. And the skill. I have two hopes: One that she never stops writing and Two, that someday I can craft a poem where someone says that it reminds him of something Kay Ryan would write.
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.