From the Publisher
“Ryan’s poems make a singular, angular music that’s not quite like any you’ve heard, with sharp edges, densities of sound and syntax that can acquire the most mysterious clarity, and rhymes that come at you in the same off-kilter way that the observations do. These poems feel as if they were built to last, and they have the passion, precision, and sheer weirdness to do so.” Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry, from the citation accompanying The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
“Her poems are compact, exhilarating, strange affairs, like Erik Satie miniatures or Joseph Cornell boxes. She is an anomaly in today’s literary culture: as intense and elliptical as Dickinson, as buoyant and rueful as Frost.” J.D. McClatchy
“Ryan’s poems leave the reader elevated or changed or moved but at a loss to say exactly how this effect has been wrought. It’s like arm wrestling with the scrawny kid in the schoolyard who pins you before you know what’s happened.” David Yezzi, Poetry
“Full-brained poems in a largely half-brained world.” Kirkus Reviews
“It’s not Ryan’s logic that makes her poems breathe fire, it’s her illogic, delivered with calm precision, like a masterful change-up pitch.” Kate Moos, Ruminator Review
“I can’t think of another poet who makes me laugh as often as she makes me ponder the imponderables.” Laura Miller, Salon
“Ryan brazenly questions the extent to which we are in control of, and thus responsible for, our own and others’ suffering. Her work . . . operates in an American tradition stretching from Dickinson through Stevens and Frost to Ammons and Bronk, where fidelity to the natural world works as a scrim for staging such self-exploration. . . . Empathic and wryly unforgiving of the human condition, the poems are equal parts pith and punch. The effect is bracing.” Publishers Weekly
… Kay Ryan's tiny poems turn out to be full of color and argument, after all. In fact, she makes good writing look so easy that I despair of her influence, just as English schoolmasters once worried that schoolboys liked Keats too much and would ape his sensuousness (if only). Yet Ryan's special talent is for illuminating the known and showing how the unknown defines it, as when she writes of a frozen lake that has its own seasons under the ice or says that Houdini's greatest trick was to emerge from the chains and padlocks as himself.
The New York Times
In two or three shifty sentences per short-lined poem, Ryan brazenly questions the extent to which we are in control of, and thus responsible for, our own and others' suffering. Her work, in this sixth collection, operates in an American tradition stretching from Dickinson through Stevens and Frost to Ammons and Bronk, where fidelity to the natural world works as a scrim for staging such self-exploration. Observing how we tolerate (and even invite) all kinds of limits on relationships and growth, the poet, over the course of 60-odd short lyrics, charts the false progress of cultivation: "we keep on making / the best of it as though/ ...our garden/ could be one bean/ and we'd rejoice if/ it flourishes, as/ though one bean/ could nourish us." As a group of friends float toward the inevitable falls, the Niagara River becomes a metaphor for arrogance in the face of greater forces: "we do/ know this is the/ Niagara River, but/ it is hard to remember/ what that means." Action, here, is more a way of heading off inevitable loss than claiming agency: "It's/ like some form/ of skin's developed/ in the air/ that, rather/ than have torn,/ you tear." Empathic and wryly unforgiving of the human condition, the poems are equal parts pith and punch. The effect is bracing. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Ryan is the poet laureate of intangible surfaces and unclassified states of consciousness. A miniaturist in thrall to brevity and pinpoint imagery, she articulates a ghostly and unreal universe where life is "the film/ sandwiched/ between twin/ immensities/ of nothing." Among her favorite domains are interim states of consciousness, such as the moment between wakefulness and sleep ("Sometimes before/ going to sleep a person/ senses the give/ behind the last given"), and the unexplored conceptual territory beneath common expressions ("Oh if it were/ only the other/ shoe hanging/ in space before/ joining its mate. If the undropped/ didn't congregate/ with the undropped"). Gently inquiring, modestly rhymed, her poems seem whispered rather than spoken, as if reluctant to disturb the "sourceless texture" of their subjects. Though an overinvestment in the ephemeral risks preciousness and dissolution, Ryan offers enough vivid images (the "doily edges of oceans") and pithy insights ("A life should leave/ deep tracks") to keep readers moving on to the next poem. Recommended for larger public and college libraries.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.