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The Niagara River

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  484 Ratings  ·  81 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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Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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,
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
She is ridiculously good. These queer little poems, which seem simple at times, reward close reading. She is so precise she can devastate or move or cheer with a single phrase.
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Hilary by: Carolyn
Shelves: poetry, 2017
This was a pleasant collection of poetry written by a Poet Laureate. As I had said in the previous book I reviewed, a collection of Sappho's poetry, while I read a great deal of poetry growing up it has been a long time since I returned to those waters. Sappho's poetry spoke to me in a way I'd not been spoken to in some time - the meaning behind the poem fragments relatively easy to parse. The Niagra River was a different beast. While it wasn't as oftentimes vague and muddied as War of the Fox ...more
Black Elephants
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Jan 08, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: stopped-reading
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.
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm going to take it as an ironic commentary that a book with this many short poems is named after a long river. I found myself longing to hear this poet say more in this book.
Roxanne Russell
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
If you think you don't like poetry, give Kay Ryan a try. This collection was great, but get The Best of It if you want to be a glutton.

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
drunk up.


Ideal Audience

Not scattered legions,
not a dozen from a single region
for whom accent
matters, not a seven-
member coven,
not five shirttail
cousins; just
one free citizen--
maybe not alive
now even-- who
will kn
Mar 29, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2013
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
Jul 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Dan Gobble
Nov 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books, poetry
I enjoy Ryan's short, terse poems, packed with a punch! Several favorites from this collection:

"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.
(p. 42)

And . . . "Least Action"

Is it vision
or the lack
that brings me
back to the principle
of least action,
by which in on
Pia Mogollon
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nadine Jones
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This is a short book of short poems full of tension. Anticipation of tension, causes of tension, preliminary tension, increased tension, sustained tension, release of tension ... everything in this book is holding its breath, waiting to relax, but ... not ... quite ... there.

Oh if it were
only the other
shoe hanging
in space before
joining its mate.
If the undropped
didn't congregate
with the undropped.
Butnothing can
stop the midair
collusion of the
unpaired above us
acquiring density
Sarah Ansani
Aug 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library, poetry
Former Poet Laureate Kay Ryan is a very original contemporary. She is known for her "compact" poems that read like rhythmic punches to the brain. I keep reading that Kay Ryan has a "sly wit" and possesses "off-beat wisdom". Her tone and voice seem to be so, but when I logically try to make sense of the ideas, relationships, and happenings in her poems, I think I may be "doing it wrong". Almost every poem in this book left me bereft of any...response. But I do have an overall response: kudos. Man ...more
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 10, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Oct 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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,"
Carolyn O
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, american
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
Chris Antenen
Jun 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
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
Sep 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2010
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.
Apr 28, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Allison Palmgren
Meh. I really hate most poetry, but had to read a book of poetry for my Adult Summer Reading, Reader's Bingo. This book gets high marks for being the shortest one I could find on the library's shelves and for being reasonably easy to read. The subjects of the poems were not abstract (which I liked) and mostly involved the natural world. Probably the best poetry I've read in a long time, but being the poetry hater I am, three stars is the best I can do.
Katie Whitney
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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.
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  • The Poets Laureate Anthology
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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 about Kay Ryan...

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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…