Summary and book reviews of The Best of It by Kay Ryan

The Best of It

New and Selected Poems

By Kay Ryan

The Best of It
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    288 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Kay Ryan’s current appointment as the sixteenth Poet Laureate of the United States is the latest in a cascade of accolades that have finally caught up with a poet who has always found her own way—both in the poetry she writes and the quiet life she has preferred. Over the years critics have noted that each new book of poems by Kay Ryan reads like a “selected” in its intensity. Now, in the much anticipated The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, Kay Ryan further distills this supremely achieved body of work. Here is the poet’s own selection of more than two hundred poems, offering both longtime followers and new readers a stunning retrospective of her earlier work as well as a generous selection of powerful new poems. The result is a major event in American poetry.

Finish

The grape and plum
might be said to
tarnish when ripe,
developing some
sort of light dust
on their finish
which disrupts.
It is this that
the great Dutch
still lifes catch,
the brush as much
in love with talc
as polish. Also
with the strange
seeing-in you notice
when a bruise mars
a fruit’s surface.

The Edges of Time

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
retreat.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse

Despite her lofty government-issued title, Ryan lays her poet's cards right out on the table, in short, sly poems that wear their obsessions boldly and yield their secrets willingly. She leads you playfully to the end the diving board with rhyming words and paired sounds, delicious nouns and rich words, sing-songy cadence and consonance; you don't realize she's tied a block of cement to your foot til you're already over the edge... Readers looking for soothing meditations on beauty or nature to set them at ease might be beguiled at first quick glance by a Kay Ryan poem, but they'll be unceremoniously knocked onto their backside if they read through to the end. Those of us who choose to weather the kick to the curb will be richly rewarded, if slightly bruised.   (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

Full Review Members Only (915 words).

Media Reviews
Newsweek - Louisa Thomas

[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.

The New York Times

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... You can’t help consuming Kay Ryan’s 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.

San Francisco Chronicle

Kay Ryan's poems are consistent delights. They fizz with euphonies; they crackle with rhyme and off-rhyme... Often she speaks as the sadder-but-wiser adult left standing after a minor disaster: Behind her wordplay lies a sense that we need all the wit we can get.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sassy, smart, and deep as they are hilarious, Ryan's poems are among the best.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Ryan's poetry offers a fresh experience of seeing and knowing that all serious poetry readers will enjoy.

Author Blurb Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress
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.

Author Blurb Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the Ruth Lilly selection committee
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.

Reader Reviews
Alisa

Question
I don't understand what's the meaning about"the great Dutch still-lifes catch,the brush as much in love with talc as polish." who is Dutch? is he a painter? [Editor's note: "Dutch" refers to a country in Europe, The Netherlands. Still-...   Read More

Wanda Richards

A Must Have
I had the chance to read this book by Kay Ryan, and it is wonderful. On March 23rd. I had the opportunity of meeting Ms. Ryan and she is great. I loved listening to her read some of her poetry from this book. I especially liked the poem "Glass ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Just What Is a Poet Laureate?

The United States Poet Laureate* is appointed annually by the Library of Congress, and is poetically described by the LOC as the "official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans." (Personally, I like the very idea of a "collective poetic impulse," and find its acknowledgement and promotion by an institution of the federal government deeply heartening!) The Laureate's job is to promote poetry in the national consciousness however he or she wishes, often by implementing public programs and education in schools. They also head an annual poetry reading series at the Library. The Laureate receives a stipend of $35,000 (which when the stipend was originally instituted served as quite a nice living for a poet, but now serves as more of ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Best of It, try these:

  • A Gate at the Stairs jacket

    A Gate at the Stairs

    by Lorrie Moore

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A novel on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.

  • Birds of America jacket

    Birds of America

    by Lorrie Moore

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Explores the personal and the universal, the idiosyncratic and the mundane, with all the wit, brio, and verve that have made her one of the best storytellers of our time.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes

Books with similar themes


Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Take This Man
    Take This Man
    by Brando Skyhorse
    "A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it's the sound of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.