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Say Uncle

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  363 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Filled with wry logic and a magical, unpredictable musicality, Kay Ryan's poems continue to generate excitement with their frequent appearances in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals. Say Uncle, Ryan's fifth collection, is filled with the same hidden connections, the same slyness and almost gleeful detachment that has delighted readers of her earlier books. Compac ...more
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Published December 1st 2007 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published September 30th 1991)
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Dan Gobble
I love Kay Ryan's short, terse poems. They are filled with wit and insights that might ordinarily escape our attention. She has a way of taking an old saying or adage and infusing it with new meaning or subverting it to create a new edge for phrases we might tend to gloss over in ordinary conversation.

One of my favorites is "It's Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn"

But how dark
is darkest?
Does it get
jet - or tar -
black; does it
glint and increase
in hardness
or turn viscous?
Are there stages
of darkne
Kevin Albrecht
I bought my copy of "Say Uncle" last year when Kay Ryan came to San Francisco and gave a talk on her work. When I saw her speak, I had never really heard of her before, but left the talk totally impressed by both her work and her personality.

This book contains dozens of very short, but very poignant poems. She approaches topics from everyday life, but frequently through an almost scientific detachment. She totally removes herself from the poems and makes them universally appealing. She is the ul
The satisfactions
of agreement are
immediate as sugar--
a melting of the
granular, a syrup
that lingers, shared
not singular.
Many prefer it.


Kay Ryan’s poetry—the sparseness; the sometimes eloquent vagueness—wasn’t always to my taste; but one poem in this collection, “Composition,” reveals the revelatory power of the writing process. The poem reacts to a quote by Joseph Brodsky: “Language is a diluted aspect of matter,” which I would have once said is a great way to characterize Ryan’s poetr
i've been wondering around seattle, and i've been trying not to buy too many books, because whatever i buy i have to carry on my own back all week, but i just picked up a new copy of this book at left end books down by the marker-- it's small, and i'd meant to pick up a new copy for so long, and there it was in a place i was content to leave some money.

i love this book. it contains, among other things, the first poem written in my own lifetime that i really loved. it contains, among other things
Jennifer Grandone
Kay Ryan is very approachable as a poet...kind of like Billy Collins without his sense of humor or sweetness. Her poetry can have a cool edge to it, almost like the tellings of an aloof observer. Good, but not great.
Kay Ryan's poems are short and plucky, full of zings and playful metaphors. The book starts out slow, with poems that don't always make sense and seem half finished, but as the book progresses we get gems like Herring, where "tiny silver thoughtlets" are likened to small fish.

Some of the best poems are those that offer a spin on religious ideology, like the poem about the fourth wise man, who was apparently an agoraphobic, and the animals who were excluded from the creche.

The thing that struck
Holly Interlandi
Jul 12, 2008 Holly Interlandi rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Holly by: my aunt
Shelves: poetry
Completely different from most poetry I read, but compelling all the same. She keeps her philsophy from being overly pretentious and trite.
Artifice Magazine
Dang good line breaks.
I don't really enjoy rhyming poems, so many times it feels forced and limits the poem. Some people can really use it and reinvent it, wowing me completely. Unfortunately, Kay Ryan isn't one of those poets.

The rhymes aren't completely traditional, so that was a little improvement for me. I liked that they were short, but sometimes they felt too abrupt. Many of the poems I felt didn't cross into anything new or weren't that personal. "Ticket" hit closest to home with what I enjoy, feeling very pe
Each poem in this book is compressed and compact, yet deep and resonant. The lines seem almost cropped, so that the thin linear band of text bridges a chasm of empty white paper. The spare succinctness of the poems allow us to truly see and savor each word.

Many times the poems start in nature — with the peculiar particularity of a tree, an animal, a change in the weather — and they delve into rich surprises beneath in a few short lines. Other times the seed of the poem opens in the turn of a ph
I really enjoyed this collection of poetry. Kay Ryan is wonderfully inventive with language and is at least as interested in the sound of things, which I find refreshing. While a lesser poet would jam-pack their work full of intriguing noise—albeit noise bereft of all meaning—Ryan's poems do not suffer from this kind of playfulness-run-rampant. Instead, she casts and recasts her words carefully (like all good poets), crafting pieces that are bountiful in ideas and alive with the music that frame ...more
Ryan's poetry is sly and spare. Could almost call it effervescent. However there's Ryan's version of spare and then, for example, Norma Cole's version of spare, which is to my mind, much richer and more satisfying. Although her poetry looks back to Emily Dickinson, Ryan's knives aren't nearly so sharp. Hers isn't a poetry that I would return to over and over. That said, I added a star (from OK to Liked it)because there are several poems that I admire. For example, "Star Block":
There is no such t
Reading the poetry of Kay Ryan is like swallowing a Vicodin with a nice hot buttered rum and then wrapping up in a cashmere blanket and daydreaming about that time when you went camping one summer and everyone else went to their tents but you stayed on a big, weathered log in front of a fire that was still spitting sparks up. You sat and followed the desperate, crackling trajectories of those flecks of dying heat that escaped from the fire--some made it all the way up to the deep blue tops of th ...more
Shalma M
Apr 23, 2015 Shalma M rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shalma by: A boyfriend
Shelves: read-2015
My favorite pieces in this little enigmatic collection of poems are the following eleven out of sixty-four total poems: That Will to Divest, Winter Fear, Grazing Horses, Waste, Help, The Old Cosmologists, Cheshire, Death by Fruit, Test, Why We Must Struggle, and Closely Watched Things. My favorites cover a range of pretty deep topics. Recurring ideas include the cycles of life, change, growing up, grace through the hard times, fears, life struggles, mental illness, nature, simplicity, and death. ...more
This delightful collection is immediately one of my favorite volumes of poetry-- in fact, the next time someone tells me they don't enjoy poetry, I think this is the book I'll recommend to change their mind. It's just a pleasure; Ryan's poems are like riddles, in a way, but not in the sense that they are difficult to decipher. On a purely sonic level they are just incredible-- I found myself savoring them aloud over and over. They are also very funny, sometimes almost moralistic or philosophical ...more
Kay Ryan is growing on me. I think I previously read some of these poems in her Best of It collection. I like how compact she makes her poems. They have strong imagery, rhythm, and rhyme, and the short line breaks are playful and fun. A few of her poems left me scratching my head (like "Among English Verbs"), but I mainly enjoyed reading them. Their brevity and wit beg for them to be reread again and again.

The Excluded Animals
Angles of Sun
Drops in the Bucket
I had some exposure to Kay Ryan here and there, but this is the first full book of hers I've read, and I think it's safe to say that she is rapidly becoming my favorite living poet. I know it's the "easy" thing to say, but her minimal, compact form gives way to a lot of depth. That's just true, I don't know how else to describe it. Each poem is pretty perfect, the only downside here is that reading one after another can get a bit monotonous, she *only* writes in these minimal little forms, at le ...more
Timothy Green
Read this in the waiting area of a nail salon. Only took 15 minutes and was better than a pedicure. There's a certain kind of logic that runs throughout Ryan's work, and once you get into the same mindset, the poems cease to be all that surprising. But I love her lyricism, and these poems are down right fun. Would give it four stars, but it's not very long and her poems are so slender that it feels more like an appetizer than a main dish.
Poetry. I really like Ryan's style. Her language is simple and her poems are short, but they all have a little moment of reversal in them where something unexpected happens. The surprise is often aided by sly internal rhymes that connect two unrelated concepts or just add a bit of levity. Some favorites: A Hundred Bolts of Satin, Grazing Horses, Don't Look Back, Death By Fruit. I definitely want to read more of her work.
Taylor Collins
Kay Ryan is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Irony isn't as funny as plain old comical humor but Kay gives it star status. I've had the pleasure of hearing her read several times including all her readings at the Library of Congress when she was US Poet Laureate.

My copy is signed and in excellent condition. I note this here so my daughter will not sell at a yard sale for 25 cents.

If it please God,
let less happen.
Even out Earth's
rondure, flatten
Eiger, blanden
the Grand Canyon.
Make valleys
slightly higher,
widen fissures
to arable land,
remand your
terrible glaciers
and silence
their calving,
halving or doubling
all geographical features
toward the mean.
Unlean against our hearts.
Withdraw your grandeur
from these parts.
I found this 1991 collection exceptionally charming. These tiny little poems with their little unobtrusive rhyme and big pay-offs were the perfect read for a snowy afternoon.

I especially like the way she deals with the theme of loss in several poems. Never maudlin, mostly honed in on small things that yield big emotional value.
Kay Ryan, the current U.S. poet laureate, is an original voice. The short lines of her poems often consist of statements or declarations with surprising images and strong opinions, often ones that sound profound. I am sure much personal experience is behind her work, but we get very little of it. Still, she's worth reading.
Reading all of the brilliantly positive reviews below, I feel like I really missed something here.

Basically, the collection didn't do much for me at all. The poetry felt bland and shallow. Just not my cup of tea, I suppose. And it looks like I'm in the minority - so, certainly, don't take my word for it.
Charming, insouciant, funny and insightful. Her gentle way with rhyme is masterly. Wish I had read this delightful collection when it was first published 10 yrs ago and I, too, was using very short lines in my poems. It would have been both validating and inspiring. This is what I was trying to achieve.
I heard Ms. Ryan speak at Stanford University last year. An absolutely delightful warm well informed person. I need to read more of her poems as this volume left me with many questions. Her style is unusual and her poems ever so short. I liked her so very much as a person I'm sure to want to read more.
Short and pointy, delicious and thoughtful -- what else can I say to describe the poems in this collection? My plan was to read a poem or two a night, but I couldn't put the book down and ended up reading the whole thing at one go. And then reading it again.
Kay Ryan, the current poet laureate of the USA, is a poet of brilliant compression, word play and original insight. An absolute delight to read, especially one can rarely resist the desire to read each poem more than once.
Clara Kwun
I received this as a Christmas gift and read one or two a day for awhile. There are some particularly lovely poems about loss in this book. It was a great surprise - someone I had heard of but knew nothing about.
Lacey N.
Simple, beautiful, always surprising, Kay Ryan's collection of poems combine the shortness of a breath with the searing burn of a lasting phrase or powerful image. Her poems are like little miracles in twelve lines.
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  • Repair
  • This Clumsy Living
  • Meadowlands
  • Collected Poems, 1948-1984
  • The Wellspring
  • Black Zodiac
  • Native Guard
  • Delights and Shadows
  • Late Wife
  • Twelve Moons
  • Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000
  • White Buildings: Poems
  • Behind My Eyes [With CD]
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • Middle Earth: Poems
  • Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form
  • The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996
  • The Spirit Level
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...

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“The day misspent,
the love misplaced,
has inside it
the seed of redemption.
Nothing is exempt
from resurrection.”
More quotes…