Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Niagara River” as Want to Read:
The Niagara River
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Niagara River

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  564 ratings  ·  91 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
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 Niagara River, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Niagara River

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  564 ratings  ·  91 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Niagara River
Jon Nakapalau
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
Simple yet deeply moving; resonates with the collective days we all share while we follow our individual paths.
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,
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Another one of Kay Ryan's books, which can be read in an afternoon. After Say Uncle, her strongest work in my opinion. Brief poems in the tradition of Emily Dickinson that make you think. Lighthouse Keeping may be one of Ryan's finest poems in any of her books. This book is easily recommended to all, either new to poetry or well-versed in it. The last poem of the book is also one of the few examples where she uses "I." And worth quoting.


I was still slightly
fuzzy in shady spo
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.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing

I read this twice, three times if you count the poems I copied down in my notes. (Half the book.) The Salon quote in the description compares Ryan’s poems to Fabergé eggs, but I say that does them a disservice. I say they’re real eggs. Perfect, and delicate, yet made of stronger stuff than you’d think; crack one open and you get new life chirping or a meal for your bones.

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
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is my first time reading a collection by Kay Ryan and I am blown away. What incredible craft.
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
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.
Gautam Prasad
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
I just ran through these poems like it was a novel instead a collection of very short and distilled collections of words. I think the right way to read this for me might have been to read a poem and then look out into the distance for a few hours reflecting on each word and phrase very carefully to inspire novel trains of thought and learn deep truths about myself and the world around me. But I didn't do that. I liked that it wasn't directly focused on love and the tug of war in relationships. I ...more
Elizabeth Pyjov
Jan 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry

Everything contains some
silence. Noise gets
its zest from the
small shark's-tooth
shaped fragments
of rest angled
in it. An hour
of city holds maybe
a minute of these
remnants of a time
when silence reigned,
compact and dangerous
as a shark. Sometimes
a bit of a tail
or fin can still
be sensed in parks.
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Fox 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
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
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
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
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
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: american, poetry
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
Matthew Hittinger
Jul 16, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Andy Oram
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I recommend this book particularly to people who are new to poetry, who don't know how to approach it, and who need a tentative introduction to it. Ryan's tiny snippets--often only a couple sentences--combine well-crafted poetic techniques with accessible messages. The themes are familiar, or at least recognizable. The insights are charming and sometimes amusing.
Rob the Obscure
Apr 03, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Chienyn Chi
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent poems that leave you thinking.
Ashlie McDiarmid
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Kay Ryan is a poet, well known for her use of internal rhyme. This technique works with her shorter poems, like little fortune cookies. Ryan has an esteemed resume with many awards including Poet Laureate in 2008. For her sheer contributions to the poetry community, I say she is worth a read. She is not my favorite poet. There are poems in the book that I find beautiful and have bookmarked. But overall, her poetry is a little lacking for my tastes. I like the poets who skewer my heart or set it ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
I think this could be a very enjoyable read to the avid contemporary poetry reader but a lot of it went over my head. I am a fan of long verse poetry, direct and obvious poetry - in other words I like to understand what I'm reading about. As Ryan is a fan of 'nonsense' poetry, and short, jagged edges, her poetry was not for me. After a little guidence in class, I found myself understanding and thereby enjoying more of her poems, but I don't particularly love volumes that I have to decode before ...more
Thomas M.
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
“Her poems are compact, exhilarating, strange affairs, like Erik Satie miniatures or Joseph Cornell boxes. She is an anomaly in today’s literary culture: as intense and elliptical as Dickinson, as buoyant and rueful as Frost.”
J.D. McClatchy

Page 63


The dead do not
become stars or ghosts.
In fact, they are
hardly undone.
Soon their randomly
dispersed parts
reappear one
by one on
foreign hosts—
the beloved ear
or freckled arm
separate as a
milagro or bracelet
charm. It is not
grotesque, though
odd. Even a
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Homie
  • North
  • An American Sunrise
  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds
  • District and Circle
  • Shieldwall
  • Field Work
  • Collected Poems. Seamus Heaney
  • Modern and Normal
  • Human Chain
  • Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy
  • Being Human: The Companion Anthology to Staying Alive and Being Alive
  • Pigeon
  • chengyu: chinoiserie
  • The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out: Poems
  • Death of a Naturalist
  • The Protection of Ghosts
  • The Living Option: Selected Poems
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

This June, as we observe LGBTQ Pride—the annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning communities—we...
189 likes · 71 comments
“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…