The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

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Overview


Kay Ryan, named the Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry 2010, is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. She was appointed the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate from 2008 to 2010. Salon has compared her poems to “Fabergé 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 ...
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Overview


Kay Ryan, named the Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry 2010, is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. She was appointed the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate from 2008 to 2010. Salon has compared her poems to “Fabergé 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner
Kay Ryan's poems are as slim as runway models, so tiny you could almost tweet them. Their compact refinement, though, does not suggest ease or chic. Her voice is quizzical and impertinent, funny in uncomfortable ways, scuffed by failure and loss. Her mastery, like Emily Dickinson's, has some awkwardness in it, some essential gawkiness that draws you close…The Best of It is a generous and nearly career-spanning collection of her verse (it omits poems from her earliest books), a greatest-hits album of a sort.
—The New York Times
Steven Ratiner
When [Ryan's] at the top of her game (and, happily, the section of new work contains some of the book's strongest material), she has the uncanny ability to construct a tiny word-mechanism that produces the experience of genuine wonder…In the utter complexity of her vision and lyricism, I'm reminded of those mechanical devices of the ancient world meant to show us our place among the stars and help us navigate the uncharted darkness beyond. And in the very best examples, Ryan's poems do precisely that.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
In her new book, current U.S. poet laureate Ryan (Elephant Rocks) gives readers a panoramic view of how her poetry has evolved. Throughout her career, Ryan has used a compressed and condensed language charged with playfulness and wit: "Wherever the eye lingers/ it finds a hunger/ The things of the world/want us for dinner/ Inside each pebble or leaf/ or puddle is a hook/ the appetites of the world/ compete to catch a look." She writes about anything, reviving the idea of poetry as a means of naming and actualizing things through the eyes of a poet/creator. The rhymes don't seem imposed but rather a natural manifestation of creating meaning, and her dense, fractured lines and the white space they create echo Dickinson. Ultimately, Ryan fuses science with myth in a language grounded in the concrete; she often opens with a plain image or even a cliché that soon develops into something far deeper and more detailed. VERDICT Ryan's poetry offers a fresh experience of seeing and knowing that all serious poetry readers will enjoy.—Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL
Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher

The Best of It - Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry

“Everything [Ryan’s] eye falls upon takes on a brisk, beautifully complete clarity. Her tidy lines disguise an enormous intelligence and tonal warmth: a ferocious capacity for finding the essence of things. The Best of It reveals that right before our eyes Ryan has become a classic American poet.”—John Freeman, Los Angeles Times

“Ryan is one of the few contemporary poets to have imitators because she is one of the few truly compelling stylists now at work. Her voice is authoritative, confident, unfussy, exacting…she is astutely reserved, watchful, and understands that no one is special in his or her grief…So many “new and selected” volumes come out each year, but The Best of It is rare in being truly the best of the poet’s work so far. Kay Ryan is so disarming, so fresh and original, that she has earned her recent reputation as one of the very best poets among us.”—David Mason, The Hudson Review

“Ryan’s poems are consistent delights. They fizz with euphonies, they crackle with rhyme and off-rhyme…they are marvels of compact, slightly bitter wit…Ryan’s poems are what Robert Frost said all poems must be, momentary stays against confusion.”—Stephen Burt, San Francisco Chronicle

"The Best of It is a generous and nearly career-spanning collection of her verse, a greatest-hits album of a sort…you can’t help consuming [her] poems quickly, the way you are supposed to consume freshly made cocktails: while they are still smiling at you. But you immediately double back—what was that?—and their moral and intellectual bite blindsides you.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Melancholy lucidity is Ryan’s greatest gift, and it can be heard in all her most successful poems. But her most startling discovery is that melancholy, with its tendency to brood and spread, is best contained in a form that is tight, witty, almost sprightly sounding. Her poems are often built on the logic of the pun, taking an ordinary word or dead cliché as a title and then jolting it to unexpected life.”—Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker

“Ryan’s oblique humor runs from grim to whimsical, from delighted to sardonic . . . Despite her desert beginnings, she cannot disavow her own talent and taste, her intelligence and achievement . . . From a life that has not been easy, she has mined nuggets that add to American poetic wealth.”—Helen Vendler, The New York Review of Books

“Ryan…may well be the oddest and wisest poet to hold that prestigious post. Her tiny, skinny poems back 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…Pithy poems manage to encapsulate far more than their few words should hold…Sassy, smart and deep as they are hilarious, Ryan’s poems are among the best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“When she’s at the top of her game, [Ryan] has the uncanny ability to construct a tiny word-mechanism that produces the experience of genuine wonder…In the utter complexity of her vision and lyricism, I’m reminded of those mechanical devices of the ancient world meant to show us our place among the stars and help us navigate the uncharted darkness beyond. And in the very best examples, Ryan’s poems do precisely that.”—Steven Ratiner, The Washington Post

“Kay Ryan is a distinctive and original voice within the rich variety of contemporary American poetry. She writes easily understandable short poems on improbable subjects. Within her compact compositions there are many surprises in rhyme and rhythm and in sly wit pointing to subtle wisdom.”—Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress

“Kay Ryan can take any subject and make it her own. Her poems—which combine extreme concision and formal expertise with broad subjects and deep feeling—could never be mistaken for anyone else’s. Her work has the kind of singularity and sustained integrity that are very, very rare.”—Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the Ruth Lilly selection committee

“[Ryan’s] poems . . . [are] surprising and fresh, keeping the reader slightly off-kilter...As the poems swerve between images and ideas, meaning and sound, white space and the black ink of a line—between surface action and metaphorical depths—the attentive reader will see a glimmer of secret life.”—Louisa Thomas, Newsweek

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802145215
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/2/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 246,648
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet 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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2012

    Best Poetry I have read in a long time!

    Kay Ryan has a wonderful way of taking ordinary, mundane things and exploring them with her word choice. She takes things and changes the ordinary into art. I can't help but smile when I read her poetry!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Like Beautiful Marbles.

    Ryan's powerful descriptive voice is on full display in this Pulitzer prize winning collection. Short but evocative poetry.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Highly Recommneded

    This is an excellent anthology of Ms. Ryan's innovative and imaginative work. I am a new reader of Ms. Ryan's work. I wonder how I missed her. The book very much impressed me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2013

    Fresh, insightful images abound

    Ryan's poems are like a delicious bowl of oatmeal and fruit for breakfast: simple and familiar at first, but with surprise twists, the poems tend to stick with you and nourish you throughout the day. A modern Emily Dickinson, in a slantendicular way. Compare "Success is counted sweetest" with Ryan's "Why We Must Struggle."

    I was a bit ambivalent about eReader formatting and poetry, but this book works perfectlly in an electronic format. I love having this anthology on my Nook so I can turn to one of Ryan's poems in odd free moments. I keep "New Clothes" bookmarked to read in checkout lines.

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    Posted May 8, 2011

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    Posted March 18, 2011

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    Posted August 30, 2011

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    Posted July 27, 2011

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