This Morning


“Unlike too many poets who tumble into print at the first twitch of feeling, Michael Ryan takes time to listen to himself, and such listening contributes immeasurably to the subtlety of his address to the reader . . . [He] reminds us on every page that poems can be about lives, and about them in ways most urgent and delicate.” —William H. Pritchard, The Nation

“The twin ancient powers of poetry are story and song,” Michael Ryan said in a recent interview. “I like a lot of both.”...

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This Morning

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“Unlike too many poets who tumble into print at the first twitch of feeling, Michael Ryan takes time to listen to himself, and such listening contributes immeasurably to the subtlety of his address to the reader . . . [He] reminds us on every page that poems can be about lives, and about them in ways most urgent and delicate.” —William H. Pritchard, The Nation

“The twin ancient powers of poetry are story and song,” Michael Ryan said in a recent interview. “I like a lot of both.” And both are here in This Morning in glorious abundance: graceful complex narratives and tight formal lyrics, edgy humor, affecting music, and insistent clarity always in the service of the heart. He can be deeply funny and extremely moving, often at the same time. No other living poet possesses Ryan’s range of tone and technique in rendering the great subjects of art and life: sex, mortality, loss, and love (both conjugal and paternal). Even his most apparently autobiographical writing penetrates to the universal subject within it. Like Dickinson in her poetry, his personal life interests him primarily as an instance of human life. His artistic discipline is thus a spiritual discipline, and the vital spirit infusing these poems rises from the depths of isolation transformed by the joy of loving other people persistently and generously. This Morning is the work of a contemporary American master.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sometimes, the poems in Michael Ryan’s fifth book—the first since his New and Selected Poems won the Kingsley Tufts Award in 2004—concentrate on matters so close at hand they appear charmingly picayune: a garbage truck persona poem, a reminiscence about surprisingly delicious airplane food, a description of a trusty coffee mug (“Glaze crazed and lip chipped, my beloved mug/ has suffered one too many Hi-Temp Power Scrubs”). But Ryan’s most obvious literary forbear is the British master Philip Larkin; Ryan’s own shivering depths, like Larkin’s, emerge when his frank and precise vision of the everyday stirs into darker material. “The Dog” charts a speaker’s frustrations when caring for an aged mutt whose owners have traveled to Big Sur to recover from their baby daughter’s death. Despite the speaker’s cruel sarcasm (“‘The dog is old,’ he said. Oh. Thanks.”) and apparent impatience (“I don’t like the dog. It stinks”), the poem’s conclusion forces us to consider that the animal may serve as the child’s most authentic mourner. “Dachau” recounts an uncanny day-trip to the concentration camp, a tragically comic miscommunication ending the journey. The language is sociable, alive with ordinary speech—though a number of poems also fall into well-wrought stanzaic and rhyming form. These are poems of marriage, citizenship, and the wages of family strife that pry impeccable tools into the cracks of unsettled lives. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The persona encountered in Ryan's fifth collection (after New and Selected Poems) is an ever more familiar one: the affable, contemplative professor-poet warily entering his senior years ("The death I see/ coming to me/ stops to chat/ more frequently"). But Ryan generally eschews the nostalgia characteristic of his demographic cohort to observe the present. Whether his subjects are somber (a patient at a melanoma treatment center, a recent visit to Dachau) or seemingly trivial (airplane meals, a garbage truck), he approaches them all with a disarming directness further sharpened by formal craftsmanship: "Because he left her, she must make him/ someone she doesn't love, rescripting as/ deception their hand-clasped walks at dusk." VERDICT Dickinsonian economy alternates with Wordsworthian largesse to suggest Ryan's breadth of academic influence, yet his tone remains unvaryingly personal and candid, if not downright modest ("I'm full of feelings, all of them boring"). Older readers will appreciate his seasoned perspective, while younger students of poetry can learn from his accomplished technique.—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547684598
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Ryan is the author of four volumes of poetry, two memoirs, and a collection of essays. He is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of California, Irvine, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

If in the men’s room of our favorite restaurant while blissfully pissing riserva spumante
I punch the wall because I am so old,
I promise not to punch too carelessly.

Our friend Franco cooks all night and day to transform blood and bones to osso buco.
He shouldn’t have to clean them off his wall or worry that a customer gone cuckoo

has mushed his knuckles like a slugger whose steroid dosage needs a little tweaking.
My life with you has been beyond beyond and there’s nothing beyond it I’m seeking.

I just don’t want to leave it, and I am with every silken bite of tiramisu.
I wouldn’t mind being dead if I could still be with you.

Although he’s only seven, you can pick him out from other first-graders: he’s the one wearing a smirk that says, “What are you afraid of?”
maybe also to himself, if he already suspects his fear won’t ever be crushed no matter what he does.
But he’s got to try. He snatches spiders bare-fingered to wave in girls’ faces, bites a worm in half dangling the two ends from his mouth like fangs,
somersault-dismounts from the jungle gym the other kids climb off of when he climbs on,
and when he lands unhurt there’s that smirk again that mocks us for our cowardice.
Don’t hate him for it. It is his only happiness.

Where am I going? The grave.
Who am I being? The slave.
What am I leaving? The fun.
Who will be grieving? No one.

How can I touch you? No way.
Will I ever reach you? Someday.
Why do I need you? Ho ho.
Where will I meet you? You know.

What she couldn’t give me she gave me those long nights she sat up with me feverish and sweating in my sleep when I had no idea whatsoever what she had to do to suffer the pain her body dealt her to assuage the pain in mine.

That was a noble privacy —
her mothering as a practice of patience.
How deeply it must have stretched her to watch me all night with her nerves crying for rest while my fever spiked under the washcloths she passed between my forehead and her dishpan filled with ice.

That was a noble privacy.
But even then there was so much unsayable between us,
and why this was now looks so ludicrous in its old costume of shame that I wish not that she had just said it but that I hadn’t been so furious she couldn’t.

The jolt that opened me to you and shook me to my toes needs no implanted seismograph to read how deep it goes

because it’s still rattling me into this surprise that the real dream begins when I open my eyes

to see you so improbably here and so entirely true with all our random ducks lined up for me to marry you

quacking a glorious Gloria
(transcribed into Duck)
to sexy earthy unnerving love and astonishing good luck.


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Table of Contents


Sixtieth-Birthday Dinner 3
A Cartoon of Hurt 4
Airplane Food 6
Dachau 8
I Had a Tapeworm 11
Fucked Up 13
Half Mile Down 15
Insult 17
No Warning No Reason 18
Hard Times 19
My Young Mother 20
Odd Moment 21
In the Mirror 23

The Dog 29
Mug 33
Garbage Truck 35
The Daily News 37
Splitsville 41
Melanoma Clinic Infusion Center Waiting Area 42
Open Window Truck Noise 3 A.M. 44
Daredevil 45
Here I Am 46
Sabbatical 47
A Round 48
Funeral 49
Ill Wind 51

Against Which 55
Very Hot Day 56
Sustenance 58
Earphones 60
Petting Zoo 61
Campus Vagrant 64
This Morning 66
Contentment 68
Happy Anniversary 69
Spring 70
Miss Joy 71
Condolence 74
Girls Middle School Orchestra 75
Acknowledgments 77

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