Kay Ryan's recent appointment as the Library of Congress's sixteenth poet laureate is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. Salon has compared her poems to Faberge eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder." The two hundred poems in Ryan's The Best of It offer a stunning retrospective of her work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems of which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and general readers.
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.
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*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
About the Author
A Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets since 2006, Kay Ryan won the
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for
The Best of It and was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2008 until 2010. She has lived in Marin County, California, since 1971.