Say Uncle

( 1 )


Filled with wry logic and a magical, unpredictable musicality, Kay Ryan's poems continue to generate excitement with their frequent appearances in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals. Say Uncle, Ryan's fifth collection, is filled with the same hidden connections, the same slyness and almost gleeful detachment that has delighted readers of her earlier books. Compact, searching, and oddly beautiful, these poems, in the words of Dana Gioia, "take the shape of an idea clarifying itself." "A poetry collection...

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Say Uncle: Poems

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Filled with wry logic and a magical, unpredictable musicality, Kay Ryan's poems continue to generate excitement with their frequent appearances in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals. Say Uncle, Ryan's fifth collection, is filled with the same hidden connections, the same slyness and almost gleeful detachment that has delighted readers of her earlier books. Compact, searching, and oddly beautiful, these poems, in the words of Dana Gioia, "take the shape of an idea clarifying itself." "A poetry collection that marries wit and wisdom more brilliantly than any I know.... Poetry as statement and aphorism is rarely heartbreaking, but reading these poems I find myself continually ambushed by a fundamental sorrow, one that hides behind a surface that interweaves sound and sense in immaculately interesting ways." -- Jane Hirshfield, Common Boundary; "The first thing you notice about her poems is an elbow-to-the-ribs playfulness." -- Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Witty, charming, serious and delightful, Ryan's fifth book of poems is also remarkably specialized. Beginning from single observations or sayings or from single facts of science or folklore, the poems seek compression, consonance, cute rhymes, and moral lessons; usually they stop short on single remarks. All are brief, irregularly rhymed, arranged in very tight acoustic patterns, and confined to very short lines (normally of no more than six syllables). Of "The Fabric of Life," Ryan begins, "It is very stretchy./ We know that, even if/ many details remain/ sketchy." "Agreement" (in a delectable set of off-rhymes) becomes "a syrup/ that lingers, shared/ not singular./ Many prefer it." Ryan, in contrast, prefers to disagree: her poems stand up, quietly, to the received ideas she takes up or inverts. These quick, clipped poems become protests against complacency, laziness and self-pity (which can be prevented) and decay, death, entropy (which cannot). "The Old Cosmologists," Ryan explains, act "as if change were not/ something that just happens/ at certain stages/ but a private test failed/ moment by moment/ as age is." If that judgment is ambiguous, "The Pass" is not: "Things test you./ You are part of/ the Donners or/ part of the rescue." Ryan prefers to carve molehills from mountains, to garnish her ethical lessons with thinly sliced bitterness; she instructs and delights by refusing to raise her voice. Her casual manner and nods to the wisdom tradition might endear her to fans of A.R. Ammons or link her distantly to Emily Dickinson. But her tight structures, odd rhymes and ethical judgments place her more firmly in the tradition of Marianne Moore and, latterly, Amy Clampitt. Those poets, though, wrote many kinds of poems: Ryan, in this volume, writes just one kind. It is, however, a kind worth looking out for--well crafted, understated, funny and smart. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Ryan is twice winner of the Pushcart Prize, and her formal verse is well known to readers of such magazines as The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Paris Review. In her new collection of droll and pithy poems (following Elephant Rocks), Ryan once again pays homage to the craft of poetry. An exquisite rhyme scheme and word sounds like jonquil, tranquil, attention, and gentian (see the poem "Closely Watched Things") add whimsical padding to what is, for the most part, crystalline language with no room for the extraneous. Ryan addresses this economy in the poem "Blunt" when she says, "If we could love/ the blunt/ and not/ the point/ we would/ almost constantly/ have what we want." Recommended for public libraries and poetry discussion groups.--Ann K. van Buren, Riverdale Country Sch., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A by no means banal or unfathomable fifth collection from Ryan, whose treatment may seem more traditional than most readers are used to encountering, but whose themes are quite unconventional. She employs the occasional rhyme—often several in a single poem—in a natural-seeming way, neither stretched nor constrained to fit the poetic idea, but arising from it. Ryan has a refined musical ear and handles the elements of her compositions adroitly. There are internal rhymes, assonances, alliteration, iterations, and other devices rarely encountered these days. In Ryan's hands, they are not merely stylistic overlays but, rather, integral to the poem. Language and thought merge, or at least peaceably coexist, as in days of yore. The short lines and quick images—almost snapshots—are elemental. Ryan puts them together, then pulls them apart, and twists them in playful fashion, as though she were an alchemist with a modern experimental attitude: I wonder what'll happen if I mix these two. The seemingly disparate elements meld, as when she speaks of the "nutrients in failure—deep amendments to the shallow soil of wishes . . . the dark and bitter flavors of black ales and peasant loaves." The metaphors work thanks to the consanguinity of the images, which Ryan selects with care, rather than plunking down a stream-of-consciousness gallimaufry and leaving it up to the reader to develop a taste for it. Truly short-line, one-stanza (for the most part) wonders: full-brained poems in a largely half-brained world.Satyamurti, Carole LOVE AND VARIATIONS Bloodaxe (80 pp.) paperback original Sep. 22, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802137173
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 984,440
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    Say Uncle

Every day
you say,
Just one
more try.

Then another
day slips by.
You will
say ankle,
you will
say knuckle;
why won't
you why
won't you
say uncle?


All but saints
and hermits
mean to paint
toward an exit
leaving a
pleasant ocean
of azure or jonquil
ending neatly
at the doorsill.
But sometimes
something happens:
a minor dislocation
by which the doors
and windows
undergo a
small rotation
to the left a little
—but repeatedly.
It isn't
obvious immediately.
Only toward evening
and from the
farthest corners
of the houses
of the painters
comes a chorus
of individual keening
as of kenneled dogs
someone is mistreating.

    Star Block

There is no such thing
as star block.
We do not think of
locking out the light
of other galaxies.
It is light
so rinsed of impurities
(heat, for instance)
that it excites
no antibodies in us.
Yet people are
curiously soluble
in starlight.
Bathed in its
absence of insistence
their substance
loosens willingly,
their bright
Not proximity
but distance
burns us with love.


Nothing whole
is so bold,
we sense. Nothing
not cracked is
so exact and
of a piece. He's
the distempered
emperor of parts,
the king of patch,
the master of
pastiche, who so
hashes other birds'
laments, so minces
their capriccios, that
the dazzle of dispatch
displaces the originals.
As though brio
really does beat feeling,
the way two aces
beat three hearts
when it's cards
you're dealing.

    A Hundred Bolts of Satin

All you
have to lose
is one
and the mind
all the way back.
It seems
to have been
a train.
There seems
to have been
a track.
The things
that you
from the
abandoned cars
cannot sustain
life: a crate of
tractor axles,
for example,
a dozen dozen
clasp knives,
a hundred
bolts of satin—
perhaps you
more than
you imagined.

    The Excluded Animals

Only a certain
claque of beasts
is part of the
crèche racket
forming a
around the
baby basket.
Anything more
exotic than
a camel
is out of luck
this season.
Not that the
excluded animals envy
the long-lashed
don't toady,
nor do toads
adore anybody
for any reason.
Nor do the
unchosen alligators,
grinning their
three-foot grin
as they laze
in the blankety waters
like the blankets on Him.


If it please God,
let less happen.
Even out Earth's
rondure, flatten
Eiger, blanden
the Grand Canyon.
Make valleys
slightly higher,
widen fissures
to arable land,
remand your
terrible glaciers
and silence
their calving,
halving or doubling
all geographical features
toward the mean.
Unlean against our hearts.
Withdraw your grandeur
from these parts.


    Language is a diluted aspect of matter.

    —Joseph Brodsky

No. Not diluted.
Flaked; wafered;
but not watered.
Language is matter
leafing like a book
with the good taste
of rust and exposure
the way ironwork
petals near the coast.
But so many more
colors than rust:
or, argent, others—
a vast heraldic shield
of beautiful readable
fragments revealed
as Earth delaminates:
how the metals scatter,
how matter turns


Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time's fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn't be
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.

    Coming and Going

There is a
recently discovered
order, neither
sponges nor fishes,
which is never
at the mercy
of conditions.
If currents shift,
these fleshy zeppelins
can reverse directions
from inside
their guts are
so easily modified.
Coming versus going
is therefore
not the crisis
it is for people,
who have to scramble
to keep anything
from showing
when we see
what we can't see
coming, going.
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Table of Contents

Say Uncle 1
Corners 2
Star Block 4
Mockingbird 5
A Hundred Bolts of Satin 6
The Excluded Animals 8
Blandeur 10
Composition 11
Patience 12
Coming and Going 14
Nothing Ventured 16
That Will to Divest 17
Winter Fear 18
Grazing Horses 19
Waste 20
Forgetting 21
The Fourth Wise Man 22
Beasts 23
Gaps 24
The Fabric of Life 25
Help 26
Agreement 27
The Old Cosmologists 28
The Pass 30
The Pieces That Fall to Earth 31
Don't Look Back 32
It's Always Darkest Just before the Dawn 34
Blunt 35
Diamonds 36
Herring 37
The Museum of False Starts 38
The Silence Islands 39
Ticket 40
Thief 41
Cheshire 42
Yeses 43
Death by Fruit 44
Great Thoughts 46
Test 47
Crown 48
Angles of Sun 49
Bad Day 50
Among English Verbs 52
Lime Light 53
Why We Must Struggle 54
Drops in the Bucket 55
The Job 56
Closely Watched Things 57
Dutch 58
Crash 60
Gravity 62
Chemise 63
Deferred Silence 64
Attention 65
Failure 66
Matrigupta 67
Weakness and Doubt 68
Failure 2 69
Water under the Bridge 70
Your Face Will Stick 71
Survival Skills 72
And All Becomes as Before 73
Two More, and Up Goes the Donkey 74
The Catch 75
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    Bad Day

    I think the book say uncle is good because all of Kay Ryan's poems are good none of them.I love Bad Day.

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