Friday, April 22, 2011

Three by Kay Ryan


by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)

Unlike igneous
porphyry, famous
since the Egyptian
basin business,
periphery is no
one substance,
but the edges
of anything.
Fountains, for instance,
have a periphery
at some distance
from the spray.
On nice days
idle people circle
all the way around
the central spout.
They do not get wet.
They do not  get hot.
If they bring a bottle
they ket kicked out, but
generally things are mild
and tolerant at peripheries.
People bring bread the
pigeons eat greedily.


by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)
for E.B.

I thought you were
born to privilege,
some inherited advantage ~
like an estate framed
in privet edge,
or a better-feathered
shuttlecock for badinage,
or other French pretensions.
I never thought you knew about exhaustion ~
how we have to leap in the morning
as early as high as possible,
we are so fastened, we are so dutiful.

A Certain Kind of Eden

by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)

It seems like you could, but
you can't go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It's all too deep for that.
You've overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you're given
for control.  You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
you even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens.  But those things
keep growing where we put them ~
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us in thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

Kay Ryan ~ poet
I discovered Kay Ryan for the first time a few days before she won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and since then how well-known and well-regarded she is - she was the poet laureate for the United States from 2008-2010, and has won countless awards.  She also has spent a career teaching in a community college and championing community college education - not the normal path of privilege.  I admire her independent voice and her courage.

I found her book,  "The Best of It", new and collected poems, on sale when our local Borders was going out of business.  What a lucky day it was for me.  I had not heard of her and I opened it expecting to be disappointed as I am by so many books of poetry I buy - but this one was different.  The first poem chosen at random was brilliant -- a cut gem of thought, and the next - and the next.   Her language is lyrical but tightly woven.  Her insights are clear and provocative.  Her poems are short - most 12 - 18 lines - with no waste, nothing frivolous.  She does what, in my mind, a poet should do - capture the moments we wish we could capture - but with grace, insight, agile intelligence, and the sort of music that comes from years of practice.

The Best of It ~ 2011
winner of Pulitzer Prize 
Annie Dillard says, "These are poems that inspire us with poetry's greatest gifts:  the music of language and the force of wisdom."

Here in a New York Times review when she was named poet laureate, Patricia Cohen writes, "Known for her sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes, Ms. Ryan has won a carriage full of poetry prizes for her funny and philosophical work"  Recently, the New York Times reviewed this particular book and stated, "poems are as slim as runway models, so tiny you could almost tweet them. Their compact refinement, though, does not suggest ease or chic. Her voice is quizzical and impertinent, funny in uncomfortable ways, scuffed by failure and loss. Her mastery, like Emily Dickinson’s, has some awkwardness in it, some essential gawkiness that draws you close."

If you only buy one book of poetry this year it should be this one - I bet it will give years of pleasure ~ promise.   


Brooke said...

Thank you again, Jaye, for leading us down this path, a path "scuffed by failure and loss", but filled with
the "music of language and the force of wisdom".
I love it! I shall gratefully order this book immediately!
Bless you.

Anonymous said...

I think "A Certain Kind of Eden" is particularly vivid and profound -- truly great. I like the other two also: the wordplay, the gestures toward rhyme and the surprise turns at the end. Reading your site makes me realize how partial I am to poets who regard English as a beautiful collection of spices rather than as drawerful of knives.

Heidenberg said...

I also especially like “A Certain Kind of Eden”—it’s cool how the lines are sometimes split in a pattern different from the meter. I also like her references to “French pretensions” and the “better-feathered shuttlecock” as indicators of status; is her work at a community college a reflection of those sentiments, I wonder?