Least Action

July 11, 2006 at 2:03 pm 1 comment

Kay Ryan


Is it vision
or the lack
that brings me
back to the principle
of least action,
by which in one
branch of rabbinical
thought the world
might become the
Kingdom of Peace not
through the tumult
and destruction necessary
for a New Start but
by adjusting little parts
a little bit – turning
a cup a quarter inch
or scooting up a bench.
It imagines an
incremental resurrection,
a radiant body
puzzled out through
tinkering with the fit
of what’s available.
As though what is is
right already but
askew. It is tempting
for any person who would
like to love what she
can do.

There are few joys in the world like the thrill of discovering a new poet. I’ve blogged about Kay Ryan’s new book The Niagara River elsewhere, so I’m not going to repeat myself too much – but the more I read of her poems the more impressed I am with them, so that I can’t resist posting as many of them as possible.

‘Least Action’ is one of my favourites. Not just because the idea of something small and incremental fits so beautifully with the intricate bits of clockwork that her poems are, but because unlike many of her poems, which are built upon images or scenes, this one is built around an idea. The principle of least action seems like a joke at first, but as you read the poem more carefully you realise that it’s not quite as silly or outrageous a theory as it sounds – there’s something strangely touching and delicate about it. This is both a hilarious poem and a deeply wise one, and that’s a pretty incredible combination to pull off.

Other Links:

Poetry Foundation has a recording of another poem from The Niagara River ‘Felix Crow’ here. Nice, but poems about crows always remind me of Hughes.

Also, via Poetry Foundation, this link to a piece about her on Salon. I love the “I couldn’t bear the idea of being a doctor of something I couldn’t fix” bit.



Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Kay Ryan.

Extract from “Perle” (Cotton Nero A.x manuscript) I Come and Stand at Every Door

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