Kay Ryan Poetry

The poems of Kay Ryan are tantalizing morsels that are often funny and quirky, yet profound with a subtle delving beneath the layers. Kay Ryan, born 1945 in California, is a wonderful American poet who writes compressed short poems like Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore. Her style is barbed wit, visionary, ironic, teasing, often complex, quizable, refreshing, and genuinely original.

Ryan has said that her poems do not start with imagery or sound, but rather develop “the way an oyster does, with an aggravation.”

Jack Foley wrote, “There is, in short, far more darkness than ‘light’ in her poetry. Kay Ryan is a serious poet writing serious poems, and she resides on a serious planet.” Dana Gioia wrote, “Ryan reminds us of the suggestive power of poetry–how it elicits and rewards the reader’s intellect, imagination, and emotions. I like to think that Ryan’s magnificently compressed poetry signals a return to concision and intensity.”

Ryan was the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2008 to 2010. She has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Guggenheim Award, Lilly Prize, MacArthur Fellowship, and many other accolades.

All You Did 

There doesn’t seem
to be a crack. A
higher pin cannot
be set. Nor can
you go back. You
hadn’t even known
the face was vertical.
All you did was
walk into a room.
The tipping up
from flat was
gradual, you
must assume.

That Vase of Lilacs

Kay Ryan reading her poem.

Bait Goat

There is a
distance where
magnets pull,
we feel, having
held them
back. Likewise
there is a
distance where
words attract.
Set one out
like a bait goat
and wait and
seven others
will approach.
But watch out:
roving packs can
pull your word
away. You
find your stake
yanked and some
rough bunch
to thank.

Lilacs in white vase on rustic background Stock Photo by ©ehaurylik 46029713


The holes have
almost left the
sky and the blanks
the paths—the
patches next to
natural, corroborated
by the incidental
sounds of practical
activities and crows,
themselves exhibiting
many of the earmarks
of the actual. This
must have happened
many times before,
we must suppose.
Almost a pulse
if we could speed
it up: the repeated
seeking of our several
senses toward each
other, fibers trying to
reach across the gap
as fast as possible,
following a blast.

A Certain Kind of Eden

It seems like you could, but you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

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The Fabric of Life

It is very stretchy.
We know that, even if
many details remain
sketchy. It is complexly
woven. That much too
has pretty well been
proven. We are loath
to continue our lessons
which consist of slaps
as sharp and dispersed
as bee stings from
a smashed nest
when any strand snaps—
hurts working far past
the locus of rupture,
attacking threads
far beyond anything
we would have said

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Flamingo Watching 

Wherever the flamingo goes,
she brings a city’s worth
of furbelows. She seems
unnatural by nature—
too vivid and peculiar
a structure to be pretty,
and flexible to the point
of oddity. Perched on
those legs, anything she does
seems like an act. Descending
on her egg or draping her head
along her back, she’s
too exact and sinuous
to convince an audience
she’s serious. The natural elect,
they think, would be less pink,
less able to relax their necks,
less flamboyant in general.
They privately expect that it’s some
poorly jointed bland grey animal
with mitts for hands
whom God protects.


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.

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Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time’s fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn’t be
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.

Why We Must Struggle

If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
upon need?

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They’re laughable
when we get there—
the ultimate articulations
of despair: trapped
in a tub filling with
our own tears; strapped
to a breadstick mast
a mouse could chew
down; hopping around
the house in paper shackles
wrist and ankle. It’s
always stagey. Being
lost is just one’s fancy—
some cloth, some paste—
the essence of flimsy.
Therefore we
double don’t know
why we don’t take off
the Crusoe rags, step
off the island, bow
from the waist, accept
your kudos.

Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood, founder of AOIDE Bruce J. Wood has worked on Wall Street in business finance and strategy, and has written hundreds of finance business plans, strategic plans, economic feasibility studies, and economic impact studies. Bruce has lectured on creativity and strategic thinking, as well as worked on the development of numerous publishing, film, television, and performing arts projects, along with downtown revitalizations, using the arts as an economic catalyst. As an aficionado of music, art, and dance, Bruce is also a writer and an outdoor enthusiast. He has written poetry, blogs, articles, and many creative project concepts. He lives in the Metro Detroit area and enjoys writing poetry, backpacking, and ballroom dancing.

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