Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems” as Want to Read:
The Best of It: New and Selected Poems
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,070 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
Kay Ryan's recent appointment as the Library of Congress's sixteenth poet laureate is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. Salon has compared her poems to "Faberge eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder." The two hundred poems in Ryan's The Best of It offer a stunning retrospe ...more
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published (first published February 8th 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Best of It, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Best of It

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,331)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Dec 17, 2012 s.penkevich rated it liked it
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Scott
Shelves: poetry, poet_laureate
The Best of It collects new and selected poems from sixteenth US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan’s career covering 1993-2005. A highly decorated poet, Ryan teaches English at the College of Marin in California (her partner Carol Adair also taught there until her death in 2009) and has released eight collections of poetry. Ryan write tight little poems teeming with figurative language and marching to a rhythmic beat to emphasize her rhyme schemes that marries the traditional poetry styles of old with mode ...more
Jun 27, 2014 Miriam marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Miriam by: W.G. Sebald
Shelves: poetry
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 knobs
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.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.
Jul 13, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Lets face it, poetry is the wheat grass juice of literature. Everyone says that it's great for you (and it is) but it smells like your lawn and tastes like gritty pond scum.

When someone wants to look too smart for the room, poetry is the stick they beat you with. When someone wants to show how dramatic, artsy and depressed they are, it's the prop of choice. Emo kids love it. As do the elderly.

For me, poetry was in the same catagory as the advanced Maths: I know they exist and I'm sure someo
Dale Harcombe
Apr 16, 2015 Dale Harcombe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2010 and being the United States Poet Laureate 2008-2010, this poet was unfamiliar to me as my knowledge of American poetry is not extensive. I was excited to discover her work and looked forward to delving into this collection of poems chosen by her as representative of her earlier and later poems. The book contains over 200 poems. That alone makes it worth investing time in.
I particularly liked Virga. In this poem I liked the use of internal rhy
Along with Anne Carson, Kay Ryan has long been my favorite contemporary poet, so I was pleased to see her become our Poet Laureate a few years back, and then delighted to attend a reading and lecture last year, which is where I picked up this collection. She signed it "for Jesse from the San Joaquin," as I had asked her where exactly she had grown up, and the location turned out to be as small and unknown as my own hometown (though only about 45 minutes apart, neither of us had heard of the othe ...more
James Murphy
Feb 19, 2011 James Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was steered toward reading Kay Ryan by a critical appraisal comparing her to Dickinson. I think the comparison fitting. Ryan's poems, too, are short, stabbing darts which are deceptively simple and easy. The brevity of her form helps to create the deception, but held within the rind of that simple form is a denser, meatier thought. The reader's task, as with all poetry, is to peel away the rind to get at the pulp within. Each of the poems in The Best of It, like Dickinson's poems, is a radianc ...more
Jee Koh
Jun 25, 2016 Jee Koh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Smart, inventive, observant, the poems of Kay Ryan are a genuine delight. The lesser poems in this New and Selected are the fallouts of her strengths. When the love for epigram trumps the fire of imagination. When the final rhyming pair clicks shut but the box is empty. "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard" affords a rare glimpse into the private life. It leaves me wanting more, not for the sake of voyeurism, but for the sake of the complete victory.
Joan Winnek
Mar 31, 2012 Joan Winnek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to return this book to the library, then request it again. A list of poems I especially like: Shift, Spiderweb, Leaving Spaces, Force, Persiflage, Caught. And here is a short poem that exemplifies what I like about Kay Ryan.


Emptiness cannot be
compressed. Nor can it
fight abuse. Nor is there
an endless West hosting
elk, antelope, and the
tough cayuse. This is
true also of the mind:
it can get used.

I love this book so much that it's hard to mark it read, as I'm sure it will sta
Mike Lindgren
Apr 16, 2010 Mike Lindgren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
The poems in Kay Ryan's astonishing collection "The Best of It: New and Selected Poems" are so crisp and immediate that they seem effortless. It is only upon closer inspection that these little miracles of compression begin to give up their secrets, their engaging surfaces gradually yielding ever more layers of nuance.

Ryan's verse reminds one not so much of conventional narrative poems as of some cunningly made artifacts, like those tiny Russian nesting dolls, or an exquisite enameled box that,
Mar 31, 2010 Chiuho rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the one of book I enjoyed the most in my recent poetry marathon.
on the review of the cover stated that great poetry inspire us with the music of language and force of wisdom. I felt that about this collection.


Most losses add something -
a new socket or silence,
a gap in a personal
archipelago od islands.

We have that difference
to visit - itself
a going -on of sorts.

But there are other losses
so far beyond report
that they leave holes
in holes only

likes the ends of the
long and lonely liv
Jan 06, 2014 C rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
murakami deals with this and gets it right, 'just once i'd like my fill of love'

we exist in our core, those living ones of us, who would enter my republican "we" willingly, as insatiable both through a base insatiability but also through our ineffable ability for the ineffable in our own personal fantastic constructions

don't read these poems
Dec 22, 2010 Jason rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Glaciers, ribbons, thieves. These are the reoccurring images from Ryan's poetry that stuck with me after reading this "best of" collection.

For my taste, Ryan's poems are too philosophical in nature. Most lack driving images. It's like she's musing about life, breaking the lines after every other words and tossing in slant rhymes like Dickinson and normal rhymes like Frost. Ryan's poems are like little bitty nuggets. As soon as they start, they are over. Few of her poems have a turn.

Too many time
Mar 04, 2012 Jimmy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-authors
I have to express a lot of disappointment reading this collection. I had to keep pressing my snooze alarm to prevent myself from falling asleep. It was quite telling to look down the list of titles in the Table of Contents. Not one caught my eye as something different or exciting. And the poems themselves were the same way: just very boring.

Here's an example of one of the best:

Drops in the Bucket

At first
each drop
makes its
own pock
against the tin.
In time
there is a
thin lacquer
which is
layered a
Dec 01, 2011 Tristan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book solely based on the first poem, "Odd Blocks," because it had a lot of depth to it, a ton of metaphor and distinction and self-awareness that makes you think about all those "monuments to randomness." Beautiful, thoughtful, poignant; couldn't ask for a better poem. I was surprised! Why had I never heard of this Kay Ryan before? Indeed, after buying it I was going to write a review which began, "It's rare that you feel you got your entire money's worth from a book just on the fi ...more
Apr 25, 2016 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some really powerful poetry in here.

My favorite is Bitter Pill -

A bitter pill
doesn't need
to be swallowed
to work. Just
reading your name
on the bottle
does the trick.
As though there
were some anti-
placebo effect.
As though the
self were eager
to be wrecked.

Jun 14, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my bookcase for a few years - the bookcase closest to my bed. A collection I keep returning to.
Mike Jensen
Is this worth reading? Well over 90% of these poems are not. There is nothing breathtaking in the language, and few of these poems have a governing idea that seems profound enough to write a poem about. I am baffled by her popularity and the high rating others have given this book. There are occasional poems, perhaps eight in this collection, which the author considers her best work, which express something in a very nice way. These were good enough that I make myself slog through the rest hopin ...more
Apr 30, 2011 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This poet was recommended to me by my poetry TA after I had read Sylvia Plath's collected poetry. Suffice it to say that I do not like Kay Ryan nearly as much as Plath. I have to give her credit, though, because the poems I did like were clever and thought-provoking and some of them were pretty good. But overall, I don't think poets are as awesome as they used to be. I mean, Walt Whitman? He's an amazing poet and no one really writes like him anymore. Kay Ryan, though, is a good poet for her tim ...more
Michael Vagnetti
Formulaic, backhandedly accomplished poems from the former U.S. Poet Laureate. A remodeler of banalities, she chooses the most accessible, earthbound subjects. The modality is one of pause-and-reflect on a pinned and mounted object. There is a ceiling on the ambition of the poems, whose resolutions are catholic, and are padded out by styrofoam wisdom. Her prosody is ailing; the repeating cascades have nearly the same time value - each are about 15 lines. Her non-reading of the subject of "Outsid ...more
Mar 13, 2016 Mandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had a lot of things to do today, but none of them got done. These are short, crisp poems that seem like they’d be easy to breeze through, acerbic little bites that are often more cerebral than emotional. But I lingered over them, re-reading them and, when I’d finished the book, flipping back to the beginning to read them again. I also spent a good deal of time trying to foist them on other people. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, so here: I’ll take a stab with you, too.

Most losse
Oct 07, 2010 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love this collection, for this poem in particular:

The Edges of Time

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas

Heather Mize
Nov 22, 2011 Heather Mize rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not what Kay Ryan does with language as much as what she does with simple and yet beautiful observations about life in general. In a somewhat witty, whimsical, and sometimes even soft way she takes the most casual yet unseen truths of our lives and shows them to us gently.

I read this for the 2015 Book Riot Read Harder challenge, and I didn't love it. Poetry is not usually my thing. I am a plot-driven reader and poetry is often short on plot. Beautiful writing alone is rarely enough to engage me. Ryan is definitely a skillful poet, but her poems seem oddly impersonal. They were mostly descriptions of objects - paintings, animals, trees, etc. The few poems that I really enjoyed came at the very end of the book and were about aging. Those, for me, went beyond pretty ...more
S.D. Johnson
Jul 28, 2013 S.D. Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I see one reviewer has compared Ryan's work to Fabergé eggs & I can see why. I was actually thinking her poems are like enjoying a good potato... They are compact, dense, & delicious. I was so struck with this feeling of them being like a snack that although I enjoyed them immensely I read only a few at a time usually, & since the poems are mostly one page & the books is over 260 pp., it stretched out for over a year. It was enjoyable though because it was more like the experienc ...more
Jennifer M. Hartsock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Terence Carlisle
I was bowled over by this collection. Kay Ryan! Where have you been all my life? With her slyness, her wit, her insistence on upending cliches and preconceptions, her love of puzzling out life's puzzles (and finding puzzles in most everything) and her sometimes astonishing gifts with rhyme, she couldn't help but remind me of love child of Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker.
Aug 09, 2011 Neil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back in the day, in college and the years just after, I tried to make it as a poet. I had some degree of success, but without an MFA it didn't seem like a book was in the works and I got tired of the politics.

Anyhooo, I think Ryan's process is very similar to what mine was, taking a smal,l quirky idea, often metaphysical, and teasing a little poem out of it. I often felt the need to pad my poems out more, tell more of a story, get more of an event out of it, but I admire her for sticking to her
Mar 22, 2015 Nan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kay Ryan's poetry is compact, wise, and demanding of reflection. I filled the second half of the collection with Post-it notes to find my way back for another look. "Hope","That Will to Divest", "Carrying a Ladder" "Blandeur" (the opposite of grandeur), "The Best of It", "Reverse Drama" and "Relief" hit the spot for me.
P.M.F. Johnson
Jul 30, 2014 P.M.F. Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I consider Kay Ryan the best living poet in English. I love her vertical poems, going along with their sharp, strange rhymes and powerful, offbeat insights. They are funny, sad, and witty. I would recommend this book first for anyone looking to buy a book of poetry.
Kay Ryan's work has a strong philosophical bent. Like Emily Dickinson she packs powerful ideas into concise lines. The best section of the book is the group of poems taken from Say Uncle. Ryan's work is certainly different from the majority of mainstream contemporary poetry, but in a very good way.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 77 78 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Poetry Readers Ch...: George's 2014 list 1 6 Jun 15, 2015 10:13AM  
  • The Shadow of Sirius
  • Versed
  • Walking to Martha's Vineyard
  • The Poets Laureate Anthology
  • Repair
  • Failure
  • Practical Gods
  • Delights and Shadows
  • Different Hours
  • Native Guard
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • Come, Thief
  • Alive Together
  • Time and Materials
  • Blizzard of One
  • Late Wife
  • Stag's Leap: Poems
  • Selected Poems
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 about Kay Ryan...

Share This Book

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.”

Birds that love
high trees
and winds

and riding
flailing branches
hate ledges
as gripless
and narrow,

so that a tail
is not just
no advantage
but ridiculous,
mashed vertical
against the wall.
You will have
seen the way
a bird who falls
on skimpy places

lifts into the air
again in seconds --
a gift denied
the rest of us
when our portion
isn't generous.”
More quotes…