Filled with wry logic and a magical, unpredictable musicality, Kay Ryan's poems continue to generate excitement with their frequent appearances in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals. Say Uncle, Ryan's fifth collection, is filled with the same hidden connections, the same slyness and almost gleeful detachment that has delighted readers of ...
Filled with wry logic and a magical, unpredictable musicality, Kay Ryan's poems continue to generate excitement with their frequent appearances in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals. Say Uncle, Ryan's fifth collection, is filled with the same hidden connections, the same slyness and almost gleeful detachment that has delighted readers of her earlier books. Compact, searching, and oddly beautiful, these poems, in the words of Dana Gioia, "take the shape of an idea clarifying itself." "A poetry collection that marries wit and wisdom more brilliantly than any I know.... Poetry as statement and aphorism is rarely heartbreaking, but reading these poems I find myself continually ambushed by a fundamental sorrow, one that hides behind a surface that interweaves sound and sense in immaculately interesting ways." -- Jane Hirshfield, Common Boundary; "The first thing you notice about her poems is an elbow-to-the-ribs playfulness." -- Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle.
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Kay Ryan has been described as our generation's Emily Dickenson. Like Dickenson, Ryan composes her poems in very short lines and she packs dense imagery and sound into every syllable. The majority of her poems are amusing and clever, but not "light" in the sense of lacking a deeper meaning. She often takes something like an animal or a common natural or household object and compares it to the human experience, giving us a metaphysical lesson in the process. But this isn't a philosophy text. Hardly any of Ryan's poems are longer than a page and almost everyone will make you smile in recognition of some basic truth.
Her internal rhymes and the sheer music of her words are a pleasure to read out loud, particularly given the fact that so much "modern" poetry seems to reject form, meter, and ends up looking more like intentionaly obscure prose. Ryan never insults her reader's intelligence; she is disciplined in her choice of language and writes for the ear as much as for the page. She is one of the best poets writing today and Say Uncle is one of her best works along with Elephant Rocks.
Publishers Weekly, 2000-07-24 Witty, charming, serious and delightful, Ryan's fifth book of poems is also remarkably specialized. Beginning from single observations or sayings or from single facts of science or folklore, the poems seek compression, consonance, cute rhymes, and moral lessons; usually they stop short on single remarks. All are brief, irregularly rhymed, arranged in very tight acoustic patterns, and confined to very short lines (normally of no more than six syllables). Of "The Fabric of Life," Ryan begins, "It is very stretchy./ We know that, even if/ many details remain/ sketchy." "Agreement" (in a delectable set of off-rhymes) becomes "a syrup/ that lingers, shared/ not singular./ Many prefer it." Ryan, in contrast, prefers to disagree: her poems stand up, quietly, to the received ideas she takes up or inverts. These quick, clipped poems become protests against complacency, laziness and self-pity (which can be prevented) and decay, death, entropy (which cannot). "The Old Cosmologists," Ryan explains, act "as if change were not/ something that just happens/ at certain stages/ but a private test failed/ moment by moment/ as age is." If that judgment is ambiguous, "The Pass" is not: "Things test you./ You are part of/ the Donners or/ part of the rescue." Ryan prefers to carve molehills from mountains, to garnish her ethical lessons with thinly sliced bitterness; she instructs and delights by refusing to raise her voice. Her casual manner and nods to the wisdom tradition might endear her to fans of A.R. Ammons or link her distantly to Emily Dickinson. But her tight structures, odd rhymes and ethical judgments place her more firmly in the tradition of Marianne Moore and, latterly, Amy Clampitt. Those poets, though, wrote many kinds of poems: Ryan, in this volume, writes just one kind. It is, however, a kind worth looking out for?well crafted, understated, funny and smart. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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