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  1.  An Appropriate title 14 June, 2014 On
    Format:Kindle Edition
    Ms Ryan has the ability to penetrate into the subtleties and nuances of ordinary experiences and relationships and deploy them to captivate the reader in a direct and homey way.In language she has mastered brevity and rhythm,she knows the devious art of turning the weights and shapes and sounds of words into a spell that will change the reader's head. Did I mention humor? Her poems nudge you with an invisible elbow. Read ten of them and for awhile at least, you'll be more the way you like to be.
  2.  the pleasure grows with rereading 18 May, 2014 On
    I love the the attention to the line in her poetry. I love the way she plays with rhyme, but the rhymes are not usually at line's end. I love her awareness of how surprising the world actually is and how she captures these surprises in her poems. And I love the humor in her poems. For example, in a poem called "The Mock Ruin," she writes about a Roman theater in Libya, where the most preserved part of the structure is a a backdrop for some performance. The last lines of the poem are " . . . Maybe there is something/ to falseness that doesn't get reported."
  3. 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
     Tinkling platitudes 30 May, 2013 On
    Philosophy for infants ('Where is is/when is is was?'), this is both cutesy and prosaic. Take away the line breaks and what do you get? 'She seems unnatural by nature - too vivid and peculiar a structure to be pretty, and flexible to the point of oddity.' (That's six lines in the original.) 'No unguent can soothe the chap of abandonment' - why three lines? But portentous however you slice it. But I guess she's stuck with her shtick - a bit Williams, a bit Moore, more than a bit Dickinson. She's read - but has the woman lived? What she thinks musicality reeks of preciousness and shrieks constriction. (I'm even picking up her tinkling mid-line rhyme tic, which manages to trip you up while rendering bland*. Some feat.) '[W]ild horses.. are stretched by hills.' How so, ma'm? Only at page 37 still - and I'm gagging for Billy Collins. Sentimental to set your teeth on edge ('A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall'; some goddamn animal 'whom God protects'), Victorian without irony ('The idle are shackled/to their oars'). Our collective death-wish is impossible to survive without irony. Is that perhaps her trouble? The ones accepted by Poetry (Chicago) that gave Ryan cred in the first place are not included here. Curious..

    * or 'blandening' - Ryan's coinage
  4.  Food for the soul 26 February, 2013 On
    lip-smacking poems, all of them ! Kay is a rollicking good read. Come and get it, you'll be glad you did.
  5.  The Undisputed Poet 25 January, 2013 On
    Read from start to finish, then read it again. There is no poem that is not a delight to the mind, especially for those that hunger after great poetry. Ryan is up there with the best including Dickinson.
  6.  Here's the reason(s) she was our Poet Laureate.... 7 November, 2012 On
    Format:Kindle Edition
    These intelligent, witty evocative poems are a delight for the mind and soul...oughta be required reading (IMNHO - "in my never humble opinion")
  7. 0 of 4 people found this review helpful
     poems over my head 1 February, 2012 On
    Format:Kindle Edition
    I have written some short primitive poems and thought I would find this book of value. I did not. It is probably world class to those with a greater intellect but I found very little to like. I could not finish the book.
  8. 3 of 6 people found this review helpful
     Disappointing after the first poem. 4 November, 2011 On
    Yep, you read right--the first poem. I bought this book solely based on the first one, "Odd Blocks," because it had a lot of depth to it, a ton of metaphor and distinction and self-awareness that makes you think about all those "monuments to randomness." Beautiful, thoughtful, poignant; couldn't ask for a better poem. I was surprised! Why had I never heard of this Kay Ryan before? Indeed, after buying it I was going to write a review which began, "It's rare that you feel you got your entire money's worth from a book just on the first page."

    Unfortunately that turned out to be a little too true. Little did I know that the rest of Kay Ryan's poems did not follow in the footsteps of this one. Most often they are subtle observations, but not simple in a good way, it's the simplicity on *this* side of complexity if you catch my drift; simplicity without meaning, simplicity without understanding, and a rhyme here and there almost as if it were the purpose. I initially spent a great deal of time looking, searching, digging; trying to find anything under the surface of each poem. Eventually I gave up. Oh yes, that's a tree. And now you're writing about your pen, and just your pen, oh and how your pen writes, and how one once compared it to a sword (oh, never read that before). Apologies for being cynical, but I really tried, and couldn't find, any value in most of these poems. They just left me with sort of a "huh" feeling, and eventually as though I had wasted my time. There are a lot of great poets out there elucidating ideas you never knew existed in ways you never thought possible, and they are worth your time; Kay Ryan appears to be a simple poet shedding light on what is already lit in tried and true ways. What's the point?

    Except for in that first one. And you can read it right here--click "First Pages" below the thumbnail above, and you'll be taken right to it. "Odd Blocks" is the best, and only good poem in this entire collection. Save your money and just read that one. Almost makes me wonder if she stumbled on that metaphor by mistake. If she were trying surely she would have succeeded a good three or four more times, but that's not the case in this collection. Sad.
  9. 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
     The Pleasure of Kay Ryan 27 September, 2011 On
    The Best of It: New and Collected Poems of Kay Ryan is a must on any poet lover's bookstand. I am reading it slowly as I want to savor every word. I close my eyes after each and pretend I have just finished an exotic chocolate bar.
    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.
  10. 4 of 4 people found this review helpful
     A Recent United States Poet Laureate 14 September, 2011 On
    In 1936, the Library of Congress received a large endowment for the "maintenance of a chair of Poetry of the English language". The following year, the Library made its first appointment to the position of "Consultant in Poetry". The position soon became informally known as the United States Poet Laureate. In 1985, Congress passed a law explicitly designating the Consultant position as America's Poet Laureate. It is valuable for the United States to have a position of Poet Laureate to recognize the importance of poetry and literature to American life. A recent book, The Poets Laureate Anthology" published in association with the Library of Congress offers an excellent overview of and selection from America's Poet Laureates. The Poets Laureate Anthology

    The American poet Kay Ryan (b. 1945), a long-term resident of California, served two terms as Poet Laureate from 2008 -- 2010. During her tenure, she prepared this anthology of her work, "The Best of It" (2010), which consists of poems she selected from four earlier books of poetry together with a substantial group of new poems. The volume includes well over 200 poems. In the book, Ryan presents her newest poems first followed by a selection in chronological order, beginning with the earliest works, from her previous books. In 2011, Ryan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for "The Best of It".

    Ryan writes largely apart from academic writers of poetry, and she has developed a distinctive style. Here are some of the things I found in my reading. Ryan's poems are almost always short. They consist of short lines of few syllables. Ryan is best-known for her use of rhyme. Many of her poems use rhymes, half-rhymes or alliteration. Her rhymes appear at the end of lines but she also uses hidden rhymes with the rhymed words appearing at the end of a line and at the middle of another line or with both words in the middle of a line. Frequently the rhymes are not exact.

    Another distinctive quality of the poems is their lack of self-reference. Many poets write about themselves and their intimate feelings and experiences, and readers tend to expect this type of self-revelation from poetry. The pronoun "I" appears infrequently in Ryan's poetry. She speaks more often in terms of "we" or "you" when she uses pronouns at all. This gives the poems a meditative character as opposed to a character that overtly expresses strong individual feeling. Ryan is not a confessional poet; and her writing seems generally directed outside herself.

    Ryan's poems have immediacy, accessibility and are easy to read. They are also quirky with odd word choices and rhythms and unusual word choices in places which will make the reader pause. The poems tend toward irony and whimsy. Ryan's work has been described as a "poetics of play" and she has written that "[t]here's always a smidegen of laughter in it, however lonely or lost. If you feel worse after you've read it, then I have failed." There is also a serious tone not far from the surface in most of Ryan's poems. The poems and the volume both encourgage quick reading followed by a return and thought about selected poems. The poems have a broad range of themes. The titles are important and tend to be developed with a twist in many of the poems. Many poems begin with a short important epigraph or quotation. The most frequently recurring subject appears to be animals, as Ryan writes about flamingos, crustaceans, crows, ospreys, cats, sharks, horses, snakes, herring, elephants, and many other animals. These poems have a quality of fable similar to the poems of Marianne Moore, who appears to be an important influence on Ryan.

    The title of the volume, "The Best of It" is taken from a poem Ryan published in a volume called "The Niagra River" in 2005. The tone is quiet, and, it seems to me both celebratory and ironic about the qualities of persistence and making do with little. Here it is:

    "However carved up
    or pared down we get,
    we keep on making
    the best of it as though
    it doesn't matter that
    our acre's down to
    a square foot. As
    though our garden
    could be one bean
    and we'd rejoice if
    it flourishes, as
    though one bean could nourish us."

    One of the many animal poems also deserves to be quoted. Here is a poem called "Turtle" derived from a 1994 collection, "Flamingo Watching". Note the many rhymes and half-rhymes.

    "Who would be a turtle who could help it?
    A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
    she can ill afford the chances she must take
    in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
    Her track is graceless, like dragging
    a packing case places, and almost any slope
    defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
    she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
    to something edible. With everything optimal,
    she skirts the ditch which would convert
    her shell into a serving dish. She lives
    below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
    will change her load of pottery to wings.
    Her only levity is patience,
    The sport of truly chastened things."

    Readers who want to explore contemporary American poetry will enjoy this collection of poems by Kay Ryan.

    Robin Friedman
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