Index: Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan



Nothing exists as a block
and cannot be parceled up.
So if nothing is ventured
it’s not just talk;
it’s the big wager
Don’t you wonder
how people think
the banks of space
and time don’t matter?
How they’ll drain
the big tanks down to
slime and salamanders
and want thanks?


Little has been made
of the soft, skirting action
of magnets reversed,
while much has been
made of attraction.
But is it not this pillowy
principle of repulsion
that produces the
doily edges of oceans
or the arabesques of thought?
And do these cutout coasts
and incurved rhetorical beaches
not baffle the onslaught
of the sea or objectionable people
and give private life
what small protection it’s got?
Praise then the oiled motions
of avoidance, the pearly
convolutions of all that
slides off or takes a
wide berth; praise every
eddying vacancy of Earth,
all the dimpled depths
of pooling space, the whole
swirl set up by fending-off—
extending far beyond the personal,
I’m convinced—
immense and good
in a cosmological sense:
unpressing us against
each other, lending
the necessary never
to never-ending.

Kay Ryan’s poems are a public service. They burrow into the overlooked and taken-for-granted and uncover something intrinsic and valuable. Her contribution lies in recovering insight trapped in cliches and bromides. Her poems pause to illuminate the darkness just before dawn, linger over the texture of the fabric of life, and note the passing of water under the bridge. In Nothing Ventured she detects the weight and scale of nothing itself, and marvels at how casually we gamble it away. She is also a consummate observer of the whirring gizmos of existence. Indeed, “little has been made of the soft skirting action of magnets reversed.” By the end of Repulsive Theory, the lovingly rendered “pillowy principle of repulsion” is invested with a precise and staggering physical and poetic power, doodling the edges of continents, “unpressing us against each other, lending the necessary never to never-ending.” Now our Poet Laureate, all her books are endlessly rewarding, and while some are rare, Niagara River, Elephant Rocks and Say Uncle are easily found. A great overview can be found here. (Image: Roy Lictenstein, Magnifying Glass, 1963)