The Niagara River
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The Niagara River

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  350 ratings  ·  62 reviews
In the citation accompanying Kay's recent award of the prestigious Ruth Lilly Prize, Christine Wiman wrote: "Kay Ryan can take any subject and make it her own. Her poems-which combine extreme concision and formal expertise with broad subjects and deep feeling-could never be mistaken for anyone else's. Her work has the kind of singularity and sustained integrity that are ve...more
Paperback, 72 pages
Published August 17th 2005 by Grove Press
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Mar 03, 2009 Buck rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I know, I know. Kay Ryan is the current U.S. poet laureate, which, in terms of street cred, is equivalent to your favourite little indie band winning a Grammy and licensing their songs to Volkswagen. It also doesn't help that she writes these itsy-bitsy poems that look, on the page, like W.C. Williams' discarded Post-it notes.

But once you take the (minimal) trouble to actually read her stuff, you discover that, under the girlish cuteness, there’s a very tough, very grown-up intelligence at work...more
Just beautiful. I don't know when was the last time I read a book of poetry but this one was just lovely and I'd recommend it to anyone the least bit interested in poetry or just the sound of language well-put together. Here's the poem that got me hooked into buying the book, in the first place:

Hide and Seek

It's hard not
to jump out
instead of
waiting to be
found. It's
hard to be
alone so long
and then hear someone come
around. It's
like some form
of skin's developed
in the air
that, rather
than have torn,...more
Mar 02, 2009 Anne rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
Just not my style. I wanted to love her, being that she's the poet laureate and all. I loved a few lines. Overall, I felt like her poems had a template of sorts: all poems must have very short lines, all the exact same length, must include a smattering of strict rhyme to sound a little sing-songish, must be incredibly clever or somewhat witty, must attempt to end with a punch line. It was like she took poetry and squished it into a little scientific box and just couldn't break out of it. No disr...more
Twice, I read this, since the first time I read too quickly and missed it all. The second time, I had some sweet leisure, in sunshine, and was able to slow down enough to hear what this witty, concise, non-sentimental woman has to say. I love her. She is the opposite of me in all ways, maybe, but her outspoken heart is able to talk to mine and be received. For some reason, I thought she was this indie, community college teaching, earthy non-conformist, which she is, but she also was poet laureat...more
I do enjoy Kay Ryan but better piecemeal. Over the course of a book these short, funny and thoughtful, but maddeningly one-note and too-too-clever poems begin to blend one into another, lessening the effect (and surprise) from reading each separately.
Joan Winnek
I have to return this book to the library without finishing it, it's due today. I love Kay Ryan's poetry and will continue to read her.
A book of over 60 poems.

I feel a bit mixed. On the one hand, I think Ryan creates unique images from (extra)ordinary life things, a flow of words that's sometimes interesting and sometimes quite pretty. On the other hand, her poems - as a whole - didn't nestle inside of me in a way that makes me want to get another collection of her poems. It's hard for me to even say why. Still, a handful did work some magic for me:

p 21, Green Hills: "Their green flanks / and swells are not / flesh in any sens...more
Prescription for reading this book: Read in a half-baked way, half-listening to your husband tell you about something-er-other, then leave on bedside table for, oh, six months or so. Then have insomnia for a month straight. Be in the middle of reading Good Morning, Midnight
but decide to read poetry instead. Then read this book at 2 a.m., and read it again right after. Then, because you still can't sleep, you'll be compelled to write this:

How does she do it? How does she manage to make my heart...more
Black Elephants
Friend and I were having a conversation today in which she admitted that a Haruki Murakami book is her idea of literary foreplay.

Wait, what?

Let me enlighten you.

Said friend and I sat around a fondue pot, waxing literarily about David Sedaris books and how I should read more David Sedaris books, when said friend said that she hadn't read in awhile, which meant she needed to read a Murakami book.

I said, "Wait, what?"

And she said, in a way that was most enlightening, that Murakami books just get he...more
Kay Ryan is dead on; economical; recurring themes remind you, she has been thinking and rethinking what are the only things to say that are true about self-preservation and comprehending Nature in a non-anthropocentric way - if that's possible. Some of my favorites from this collection (I'll let these clipped pieces speak for themselves):

The Well or the Cup

How can
you tell
at the start
what you
can give away
and what
you must hold
to your heart.
What is
the well
and what is
a cup. Some
people get
There are definitely--as the jacket cover suggests--ripples of Dickinson throughout this book:

One does not stack.
It would be like
a mouse on the back
of a mouse
on a mouse's back.
Courses of mice,
layers of shivers
and whiskers,
a wobbling tower
with nothing more
than a mouse inside.

This book is jaunty, and therefore, at every line break, risks coming off as juvenile. Somehow, though, it resists such characterization. Its rhymes surprise, tucked into such slender forms--you rarely see them com...more
Kay Ryan’s poetry is deep without being overwhelming. Each poem is short, and even the lines within it are short – very readable and pithy. Most poems only occupy a single page and can be read several times and understood without spending a half an hour in deciphering them.

I love the way Kay Ryan plays with words and rhymes. Her poems don’t rhyme in the traditional sense, but she throws in rhyming words in unexpected places. The rhymes add emphasis; they catch the reader off guard. Some of her...more
These poems are unlike most anything I've ever heard. I found myself reading them too quickly - since they're short, and often a single sentence or two, it's easy to read them as a chain - so I took to reading them aloud to slow myself down. I most enjoyed "Backward Miracle" (69), which seems to argue for the form of these poems:

Every once in awhile
we need a
backward miracle
that will strip language,
make it hold for
a minute: just the
vessel with the
wine in it -
a sacramental
refusal to multiply,
Carolyn O
I love these poems. They're unlike any others in my pretty extensive poetry library. They're short, rarely flowing from one page onto another, and the lines are short as well, often just three or four syllables in length. I found the rhythm, and the occasional rhymes, jarring, but not unpleasantly so. Many of the poems end with a subtle twist, a line that forces the whole poem into sharper focus. These poems call for slow reading and then re-reading; I wanted to savor and remember them.

Some of m...more
Dec 08, 2011 Punk rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
Poetry. Kay Ryan has a distinctive style. Narrow columns, sneaky rhymes, twisting sentences ripe with parentheticals, and a last line that makes you scroll your eyes back up to the beginning and read the whole thing again.

She deals in the absurd -- chickens coming home to roost, literally; that sort of thing -- and the everyday, often at the same time, and with a kind of removed, wondering tone that really works for me.

Some favorites: "Home to Roost," "Carrying a Ladder," "Atlas," "Tired Blood,"...more
José Santos
One could say -paraphrasingo one of her poems- that Ryan's poetry holds strong, as though ghost verses had been added after one finished reading.
Steven Pennebaker
4 stars for craft. the content was a bit variable - stick with it, the clinkers come earlier.
She writes poems that could easily fit into the margins of a page--short, wise, incisive, and witty. Ms Ryan has a light touch that belies the
reverberating effect her poems have. The simple, elegant lines and careful, well-chosen images make the poems easy to remember and easy to meditate on. Insight and reflection pours out of each poem like clowns out of a miniature car. Very often ironic and humorous, there isn't a better poet to read for the sake of living well. Whenever I want to gobble up...more
Things shouldn't be so hard

A life should leave
deep tracks
ruts where she went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knob
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space-
however small-
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Chris Antenen
Jun 15, 2008 Chris Antenen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who loves poetry
Shelves: poetry
This is my 4th book of Kay Ryan's poetry. I could put it on my 'read' shelf and my 'currently reading' shelf. No other poet can put so much into so few words.
"We expect rain
to animate this
creek: these rocks
to harbor gurgles,
these pebbles to
creep downstream
a little,
. . .
but no rain yet."

"As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice--as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced--
the changing scenes
Although I enjoyed some singular poems in this collection, I didn't find it as incisive or as charming as Say Uncle.

The collection seemed less cohesive than earlier ones, and the poems that were the most effective focused keenly on single concrete images, while much of the book dealt too much in abstraction for me. With lines that lean toward 2 to 3 words in length, and poems that are usually not longer than 12 -14 lines, it was disconcerting when a poem would go three or four lines with no con
I picked up this book of poetry because of the title. I have been to the Niagara River many times, and thought that it would be a book of themed poetry about the river. But it was not. Only the first poem is about the Niagara River, the rest are on miscellaneous themes. Each poem is short, in free verse, about a particular thought, image or feeling. When I was done reading the poems, I wanted to reread them to get more meaning out of them, and I think that's the sign of a good book of poetry, wh...more
I read this because I was going to hear Kay Ryan read at the Herbst Theater. She is the poet laureate and has some interesting nuggets of wisdom-generally a bit of a sarcastic voice--quick witted and almost flip, but there is definite beauty there. Her poems are spare, short and specific to a moment in time. Pieces about her mother are beautiful-more profound than many of the observation poems--or maybe I just am not reading closely enough. She hides a little too much behind jokes and inferences...more
Home To Roost

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then then turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small ––
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost –– all
the same kind
at the same speed.
Matthew Hittinger
Compact poems, satisfying in their brevity and weird music/rhymes, as if no one's rhymed quite that way, quite like that before. Real wit and fresh turns on trite and familiar sayings/sentiments. She manages to evoke quite a bit with few strokes--at times they feel like sayings or aphorisms, perhaps a little too neat and tidy, though. A comparison to Cornell boxes is apt.
Kay Ryan's poems, like those of Dickinson, are little gems that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. How can 10 very short lines expose and explore such extensive territory? She shows how the biggest, most abstract metaphysical questions really lie just beside our most intimate, personal doubts and convictions. I suggest reading this collection in one sitting.
The Past
“Sometimes there’s / suddenly no way / to get from / one part to / another, as though / the past were / a frozen lake / breaking up. But/ not from the / top; not because / it's warmer / up here; it's not. / But from underneath / for some reason— / perhaps some heat / trapped on its own / for so long it’s / developed seasons.”

Katie Whitney
This is accessible poetry--not the stuff they publish in The New Yorker--that often reads like an intellectual observation of intense, subtle, indefinable human emotions. I got the sense that that intellectual distance was protective, holding back to keep from spilling over. The language is clever, but not for cleverness' sake. I dig that.
Rob the Obscure
Wonderful poems of small bits of light.

I heard Ryan read her poetry a few weeks ago. As is often true of good poetry, it sounds even better when read, but is delightful also to read in silence.

These are insights into humanity that it would be well worth the time to explore.
Oct 29, 2009 Liam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I agree with most of the positive comments, in fact while reading this collection I ordered all of Kay's available books to read next month. Very accessible while making us think about the simplest aspects of life that ultimately could have great consequences.
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Born in California in 1945 and acknowledged as one of the most original voices in the contemporary landscape, Kay Ryan is the author of several books of poetry, including Flamingo Watching (2006), The Niagara River (2005), and Say Uncle (2000). Her book The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (2010) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Ryan's tightly compressed, rhythmically dense poetry is often comp...more
More about Kay Ryan...
The Best of It: New and Selected Poems Say Uncle Elephant Rocks: Poems Flamingo Watching Strangely Marked Metal

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“It’s hard not
to jump out
instead of
waiting to be
found. It’s
hard to be
alone so long
and then hear
someone come
around. It’s
like some form
of skin’s developed
in the air
that, rather
than have torn,
you tear.

"Hide and Seek”
“Weak Forces

I enjoy an accumulating
faith in weak forces--
a weak faith, of course,
easily shaken, but also
easily regained--in what
starts to drift: all the
slow untrainings of the mind,
the sift left of resolve
sustained too long, the
strange internal shift
by which there's no knowing
if this is the raod taken
or untaken. There are soft
affinities, possibly electrical;
lint-like congeries; moonlit
hints; asymmetrical pink
glowy spots that are no
the defeat of something,
I don't think.”
More quotes…