The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, Kay Ryan 2010

Kay Ryan is one of our greatest poets.  She served as the 16th U.S. Poet Laureate from 2008- 2010. This collection of new and selected poems contains some wonderful work marked by her fascination with language, especially the double meanings of words and phrases commonly used in American English.  The poems fall into two categories—-those dealing with time and its impact on people and those dealing with language.  Dipping into this collection over a period of a couple of weeks was a special treat, always offering up some delicious insight, phrase, or twist.  When reviewing poetry, I always try to quote a typical selection to give one a taste of what the poet’s work might bring to them, but in Ryan’s case, the list of poems to quote quickly exceeded my capacity to choose or type.  I posted one of her poems on The Poetry Tree last month and it remains my favorite in the whole book.  ‘Things Shouldn’t be so Hard’ can be found on The Poetry Tree at BookMarks:  Another of my favorites among her ‘play on words’ poems is “The Elephant in the Room”:  It isn’t so much/a complete elephant/as an elephant/sense—-perhaps/pillar legs supporting/a looming mass,/beyond which it’s/mostly a guess./In any case, we/manage with relative/ease. There are just/places in the room/that we bounce off/when we come up/against; not something/we feel we have to/announce.”   This is typical of her work—brief, concise, tightly enjambed, no stanzas; just a solid block of special words in a special order.  Even if you aren’t a big fan of poetry, try this volume and marvel at what someone can do with just a few words.

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