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The Best of It: New and Selected Poems Hardcover – 8 Apr 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (8 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802119148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119148
  • ASIN: 080211914X
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,125,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"The Best of It" - Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry "Everything [Ryan's] eye falls upon takes on a brisk, beautifully complete clarity. Her tidy lines disguise an enormous intelligence and tonal warmth: a ferocious capacity for finding the essence of things. The Best of It reveals that right before our eyes Ryan has become a classic American poet."--John Freeman, "Los Angeles Times" "Ryan is one of the few contemporary poets to have imitators because she is one of the few truly compelling stylists now at work. Her voice is authoritative, confident, unfussy, exacting...she is astutely reserved, watchful, and understands that no one is special in his or her grief...So many "new and selected" volumes come out each year, but "The Best of It" is rare in being truly the best of the poet's work so far. Kay Ryan is so disarming, so fresh and original, that she has earned her recent reputation as one of the very best poets among us."--David Mason, "The Hudson Review" "Ryan's poems are consistent delights. They fizz with euphonies, they crackle with rhyme and off-rhyme...they are marvels of compact, slightly bitter wit...Ryan's poems are what Robert Frost said all poems must be, momentary stays against confusion."--Stephen Burt, "San Francisco Chronicle" ""The Best of It" is a generous and nearly career-spanning collection of her verse, a greatest-hits album of a sort...you can't help consuming [her] poems quickly, the way you are supposed to consume freshly made cocktails: while they are still smiling at you. But you immediately double back--what was that?--and their moral and intellectual bite blindsides you."--Dwight Garner, "The New York Times" "Melancholy lucidity is Ryan's greatest gift, and it can be heard in all her most successful poems. But her most startling discovery is that melancholy, with its tendency to brood and spread, is best contained in a form that is tight, witty, almost sprightly sounding. Her poems are often buil

About the Author

A Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets since 2006, Kay Ryan won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for "The Best of It" and was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2008 until 2010. She has lived in Marin County, California, since 1971.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on 19 April 2013
Format: Paperback
Ryan got her break when some poems were taken by Poetry (Chicago); interestingly, those haven't survived into this selection. Hmm.. US po-biz tends generally to the avant garde (the future, after all, is all there is) so this kind of cracker barrel*, Hallmark Cards stuff is sometimes greeted with relief. Pessimistic doesn't mean it's not platitude. Peddling philosophy for infants ('Where is is/when is is was?'), Ryan is both cutesy and prosaic. Take away the line breaks and what do you get? 'She seems unnatural by nature - too vivid and peculiar a structure to be pretty, and flexible to the point of oddity.' (This occupies six lines in the original.) 'No unguent can soothe the chap of abandonment' would work better as one line than three. But I guess she's stuck with her shtick

Double-ya see
Williams she's

Nor even Marianne Moore. Dickinson, maybe - do we need two? There are successes (The Narrow Path, The Test We Set Ourself (sic), above all the disciplined Learning, where Ryan eschews her enervating trademark tic of the internal rhyme) but this selected is way too bulky for this repetitive, derivative voice. Bloodaxe have a newer, slimmer selection, winningly entitled Odd Blocks; just don't look for poetic progression

* A biscuit tin of my youth boldly declared 'If winter comes, can spring be far behind?' I'd always struggled with the logic. This year brought the answer (a resounding yes)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 24 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A delight 2 May 2010
By Cal Emery - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I want to second everything John-Michael Albert says in his review and ask "Why just 3 stars, if you 'really like these poems'?"

Ryan's word play is both a constant delight and a Trojan horse for her remarkable insights. Preview as many of the poems as Amazon allows, read them slowly, be on the lookout for both her gamesmanship and her meaning. If you enjoy the preview, the rest of the volume will not disappoint.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Great intro to the pleasure of poetry 6 Jan. 2011
By Poetic Novice - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm a graduate student who enjoys reading but was never interested in poetry. I discovered Kay Ryan after reading a New Yorker review which included a few lines that (unlike almost anything I had ever read before) really drew me in -- so much that, after reading a few more of Ryan's poems that I found online, I went out and bought this book.

It's sort of hard to express how grateful I am to have discovered Ryan's poems. In english classes in high school and college, I was generally bored with poetry, I couldn't really get into it. But for some reason Ryan's poems were completely accessible to me -- I find them almost impossible not to enjoy. I think their brevity makes them approachable for an unseasoned poetry reader. More importantly, the sly use of language (lots of almost-rhymes), and the fertile ideas and deep wisdom that emerge with re-reading them is simply an absolute joy. I had no idea I could get this sort of satisfaction out of poetry, and since discovering Kay Ryan, I've branched out and discovered that I can get the same kind of enjoyment from other poetry as well.

The poems are so short I've actually memorized some of them and have occasionally shared them with friends and family (when doing so didn't seem unbearably pretentious) and, in my experience, other poetic novices have been similarly hooked by the lure of Ryan's verse. As such, I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who might benefit from discovering for the first time the unique joy of reading poetry.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
pure pleasure 20 April 2011
By bookkook - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm just half through with the book however I am enjoying it so much I feel compelled to post.

As a reader I deeply want to develop critical skills for reading poetry, and to have the same experience that I've had with good books, which is to finish with some insight that I can apply to my life and some emotion that I remember long after the book is shelved (or filed, these days). Poetry has eluded me for the most part- I've been very happy with some poems, the majority of them confuse me or leave me nonplussed. This has been a life long struggle for me. It's annoying to feel as if you don't "get it", in any context.

These poems are a literal representation of what the poet sees, amazingly devoid of emotion for the most part - the reader is invited to react from personal experience. I clearly understand what she is describing on every line, and in most poems I can relate and I am moved. When I have no personal basis to relate to the poem I am still happy to view clear expression of the language, rather like a painting of somewhere I've not been to yet.

Another reviewer here suggested taking advantage of the preview before purchasing - I took the advice, and will take this opportunity to affirm the suggestion, and heartily recommend this book, even for poetry novices.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Best of It :Selected Poems by Kay Ryan 26 Mar. 2011
By R. Hart - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I fell in love with this book....and I don't usually find much poetry that interests me. I could hardly put the book down...the poems are beautifully expressed, with humor and intelligence. The rhyme is unusual and cleverly done. Iwant to go back and reread every one.
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Each a Slice of Poppy Seed Cake. Just that. 21 April 2010
By John Michael Albert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the episode on Emily Dickinson, the PBS Series Voices and Visions took great pains to make three points about her background. Dickinson lived in an age when everyone lived in the constant company of Death, and she lived in an age when all youths were encouraged to be voraciously curious about nature. Add the omnipresence of Protestant hymnody in the lives of everyone in New England with its implicit poetic form and, like flour, milk and eggs to a cake, you have the three main ingredients of Dickinson's poetry. [P] It wasn't until I made this connection (thanks to a jacket note by J. D. McClatchy in the current volume) that I felt I was ready to enter the kitchen with Kay Ryan. I think she is a poet who, deliberately or not, has reincarnated the spirit of Dickinson in the late 20th century and, to make sure I don't go too far with the comparison, summoned that spirit on the opposite coast. No great preachments here. Personal observations, usually brightened with the presence of a birdy, a bunny, or a bivalve but especially birds (particular birds as well as wings, feathers, eggs an eggshells, flight, nest etc.). [P] And all peppered with an appreciation for the shimmering verbal effect of internal rhymes and off-rhymes. All the poems in this collection are a page long or less, which focuses my attention on form, which seems to be the focus of Ryan at her most playful. Take, for instance, her drive-by sonnet, "Full Measure," a sonnet in the progress of its argument, a sonnet in its fourteen-line length. Imitating the `jangling sack-full-of-keys' relentless rhymes of a sonnet, she scatters off rhymes throughout, like tart bits of lemon zest in a poppy seed cake: measure, favors, another, water, flavor, butter, pressure, shatter and nature. Only at the end, in what suggests the Shakespearian apotheosis-couplet, does she change the rhyme to break and -take. Otherwise, it isn't anything as historically full-of-itself as a sonnet. It's a fully realized human being sharing a moment of unselfconscious fun. [P] I read a collection of Ryan's poetry, Say Uncle, on her ascendancy to the Poet Laureateship and was completely befuddled. To my poor eyes, her poems certainly had nothing in common with the work of Simic, Hall, Kooser, Gluck, Collins or Kunitz, her immediate Poet-Laureate predecessors. Lines were unrelated to meaning. She placed line breaks on conjunctions and articles. Lines were one to five (usually two to four) words long--again, regardless to meaning. Potential end-rhymes in the poems were scattered here and there by the irrational line breaks suggesting the hand of a really bad typesetter. Sense was there, but made hard to abstract because of the way the poems were presented. [P] Reading this belated collection (belated because her term as PL is almost over and I think they've lost out on a lot of sales), The Best of It, New and Selected Poems (which is in reverse chronological order of composition), I think I have a better idea of what's going on in Ryan's poetry. Ryan's poems are not about conversation or communication; they're about unvarnished observation, with the interjection of a droll sense of humor, that poppy seed cake (again) the moment you slice it and slide the first piece out. Just that. I may be wrong about her inspiration and her intentions, and I certainly missed the point when I read her before, but I really like these poems all the same. Mind you, I don't think it would have made any difference to Dickinson if I told her I liked her verse (unless my last name were Higginson, of course), and I get the same impression when I'm reading Ryan.
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