Posts filed under ‘Kay Ryan’


Kay Ryan


People should be
open on top like a cup.
A piece of bread
should be able to sop
some of us up.
We should be milk-like
or like wine. We should
not have to be trying
to get our caps off all the time.
The storybook boy
attempts the simple gesture
of baring his head
for his emperor,
but another hat has appeared.
This happens over and over.
Who does not share
his despair of simplicity,
of acting clearly and with dignity?
And what pleasure can we find
in the caps, brightly feathered
and infinitely various,
that pile up so high they bury us?

Another delightful Kay Ryan poem. This one combining an almost Kafka-esque scene with a lighthearted joie-de-vivre, to create a poem that touches you even as it makes you laugh out loud. As Ryan says herself “Who does not share / his despair of simplicity,/ of acting clearly and with dignity?”. Which of us has not had the hilarious yet frustrating feeling of being plunged into a long sequence of events by some casual gesture or act? Ryan finds the perfect comic image for that experience, and what’s more, she does so with flair.


A previous Ryan poem on Poi-tre here.

September 6, 2006 at 10:22 pm 12 comments

Least Action

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.


July 11, 2006 at 2:03 pm 1 comment