Kay Ryans 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 wayboth 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 poets 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.
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).
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.
Starred Review. Sassy, smart, and deep as they are hilarious, Ryan's poems are among the best.
Starred Review. Ryan's poetry offers a fresh experience of seeing and knowing that all serious poetry readers will enjoy.
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.
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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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.... Read More
Rated of 5
by 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
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 a bonus to the Laureate who usually earns a living teaching at a university.)
Since 1937, the Librarian of Congress (currently James H. Billington) has appointed poets to the position, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Stanley Kunitz, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, and Billy Collins. In making the choice, the Librarian...
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