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Say Uncle

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  484 ratings  ·  70 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
Paperback, 80 pages
Published August 10th 2000 by Grove Press (first published September 30th 1991)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Dan Gobble
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books, poetry
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
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Of the collections I've read by Kay Ryan, I consider this her strongest work. A poet who is truly enjoyable to read and relish. As the writer Annie Dillard said, Ryan's work melds the music of language with the force of wisdom.
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry

It is fitting that I finish Say Uncle on my birthday, having tripped with some determination and some apathy a year deeper into middle age. The title poem:

Every day
you say,
Just one
more try
Then another
day slips by.
You will
say ankle,
you will
say knuckle;
why won’t
you why
won’t you
say uncle?

It’s a good question but also a good observation about how even the weakest-willed of us have demonstrated some kind of perseverance. It’s also a good example of the cleverness and thoughtfulness in
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I usually take my time to read poetry. Something about Say Uncle, however, made me go from cover to cover in a single sitting: something so raw and compelling about Kay Ryan's lightly adorned verse, the succinct brilliance of her words. The poems 'Star Block', 'Help' and 'Among English Verb' will stay with me for a long, long time.

Over all, Say Uncle is a poetic tour de force that I would not mind picking up again and again.
Kevin Albrecht
Apr 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
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
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry

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.
Nov 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 15, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Holly Interlandi
Jul 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Jenni Buchanan
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This is a lovely book that I want to read over and over. Kay Ryan's poems are beautiful in their simplicity. Each one is small, bite-sized, quick to read but long to mull over. Kay plays with language in a way that reminds me of other favorite poets of mine such as Wallace Stevens, e e cummings, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, but her subject matter and the way she looks at and relates to the world reminds me of Emily Dickinson (my favorite poet of all time). I would give a copy of this book to every ...more
Sam Smiley
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. While I quite enjoyed many of the poems in this collection. It did not feel to me as if there was a strong story being told. I felt more like it was a bunch of poems shoved together into a collection, without a narrative within.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Faves: Star Block, A Hundred Bolts of Satin, Blandeur, Grazing Horses, Diamonds, Herring, The Museum of False Starts, Drops in the Bucket, Chemise
Andrew Mathis
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kay Ryan makes you think you don't look at the world as closely at you should. Each poem turns your eye to a connection or realization she has seen before you.
Keith Holding
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
"As if change were not
something that just happens
at certain stages
But a private test failed
Moment by moment
As age is."

Beautiful. Absolutely Beautiful.
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry-poetics
I dogeared these poems: "Blandeur," "Composition," "That Will to Divest," "Grazing Horses," "It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn," "Death by Fruit," "Among English Verbs."
Matt Morris
You may read my review of this & other books at ...more
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2020
Kay Ryan's poems are tightly packed treasure chests with a million keys for a million locks.
Brian Wasserman
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Word salad, and questions that seek to be profound but fail to be profound. Some of the playfulness is charming but only in small bites.
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
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
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary, poetry
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
May 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Paula Koneazny
Jan 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Dec 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 04, 2011 rated it liked it
LBCC had a special event during April, which is national poetry month, when they brought the poet laureate of the United States to the college for a reading and a question/answer session. I couldn't believe a little school like ours was able to get such a notable person to visit. Then during the Q & A I learned that Kay Ryan, the poet laureate, is herself a professor at a community college. Say Uncle is a good collection of well written poems. My favorite poem by Ryan is one she read at LBCC, wh ...more
Shalma M
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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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

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