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:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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About this Book

Book Summary

A major event in American poetry: 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.

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.

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  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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 (614 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 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.

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.

Reader Reviews

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

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

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Beyond the Book

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 ...

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Readalikes

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