Synopses & Reviews
In the citation accompanying Kay's recent award of the prestigious Ruth Lilly Prize, Christine Wiman wrote: "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
. It's always a dicey business predicting the literary future
[but] for this reader, these poems feel as if there were built to last, and
they have the passion, precision and sheer weirdness to do so."
Salon compared the poems in Ryan's last collection to "Fabergé eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder." The exquisite poems in The Niagara River provide similarly hidden gems. Bafflingly effective, they seem too brief and blithe to pack so much wallop. Intense and relaxed at once, both buoyant and rueful, their singular music appeals to many people. Her poems, products of an immaculately off-kilter mind, have been featured everywhere from the Sunday funnies to New York subways to plaques at the zoo to the pages of The New Yorker.
"In two or three shifty sentences per short-lined poem, Ryan brazenly questions the extent to which we are in control of, and thus responsible for, our own and others' suffering. Her work, in this sixth collection, operates in an American tradition stretching from Dickinson through Stevens and Frost to Ammons and Bronk, where fidelity to the natural world works as a scrim for staging such self-exploration. Observing how we tolerate (and even invite) all kinds of limits on relationships and growth, the poet, over the course of 60-odd short lyrics, charts the false progress of cultivation: 'we keep on making / the best of it as though/ ...our garden/ could be one bean/ and we'd rejoice if/ it flourishes, as/ though one bean/ could nourish us.' As a group of friends float toward the inevitable falls, the Niagara River becomes a metaphor for arrogance in the face of greater forces: 'we do/ know this is the/ Niagara River, but/ it is hard to remember/ what that means.' Action, here, is more a way of heading off inevitable loss than claiming agency: 'It's/ like some form/ of skin's developed/ in the air/ that, rather/ than have torn,/ you tear.' Empathic and wryly unforgiving of the human condition, the poems are equal parts pith and punch. The effect is bracing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)