Reviews for Best of It : New and Selected Poems

Booklist Reviews 2010 March #1
*Starred Review* This ample but representative collection should attract new readers curious about the work of America's current poet laureate and should also satisfy those familiar with Ryan's conversational but tightly wrought poems. Her strength lies in creating short-lined poems that slide past the reader like notes from a journal but that, unlike many such efforts, are not merely self-indulgent anecdotes or predictable bromides. Rather, readers find surprise arising from each incident or pondering, creating an effect like that of the classical Zen haiku that starts out commonplace and rises to philosophical heights. Ryan's observation of a spider weaving begins with a comment on how "from other / angles the / fibers look / fragile," then embeds itself in the spider's own viewpoint, from which those fibers are "coarse ropes" requiring "heavy work" to get in place in the web. The point of this close reading of insect life reveals itself in the last lines: "It / isn't ever / delicate / to live." Ryan's work is best read slowly and observing intervals between poems, for the similarity of form among them risks dulling the attention when they are read one quickly after another. Also, her work, consistently excellent as it is, deserves careful reading. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews 2010 February #1

In her new book, current U.S. poet laureate Ryan (Elephant Rocks) gives readers a panoramic view of how her poetry has evolved. Throughout her career, Ryan has used a compressed and condensed language charged with playfulness and wit: "Wherever the eye lingers/ it finds a hunger/ The things of the world/want us for dinner/ Inside each pebble or leaf/ or puddle is a hook/ the appetites of the world/ compete to catch a look." She writes about anything, reviving the idea of poetry as a means of naming and actualizing things through the eyes of a poet/creator. The rhymes don't seem imposed but rather a natural manifestation of creating meaning, and her dense, fractured lines and the white space they create echo Dickinson. Ultimately, Ryan fuses science with myth in a language grounded in the concrete; she often opens with a plain image or even a cliché that soon develops into something far deeper and more detailed. VERDICT Ryan's poetry offers a fresh experience of seeing and knowing that all serious poetry readers will enjoy.--Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 February #4

Ryan, the current U.S. poet laureate, may well be the oddest and wisest poet to hold that prestigious post. Her tiny, skinny poems pack a punch unlike anything else in contemporary poetry, though not unlike haiku, if haiku could be cut with a dash of Groucho Marx. This, her first retrospective volume, which also contains a book's worth of new poems, is a much-needed introduction to the work of one of our best and most accessible poets. She asks the necessary questions hiding just beneath the obvious ones: "Why isn't it all/ more marked,/ why isn't every wall/ graffitied, every park tree/ stripped/... / Not why people are; why not more violent?" Odd rhymes draw crystal clear relations between disparate thoughts we never realized had always gone together: "As/ though our garden/ could be one bean/ and we'd rejoice if/ it flourishes, as/ though one bean/ could nourish us." Pithy poems manage to encapsulate far more than their few words should be able to hold, as in "Bitter Pill," a new poem: "A bitter pill/ doesn't need/ to be swallowed/ to work. Just/ reading your name/ on the bottle/ does the trick." Sassy, smart, and deep as they are hilarious, Ryan's poems are among the best. (Mar.)

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