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The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,396 ratings  ·  150 reviews
Kay Ryan, named the Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry 2010, is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. She was appointed the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate from 2008 to 2010. Salon has compared her poems to “Fabergé eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder.” The two ...more
Hardcover, 265 pages
Published March 23rd 2010 by Grove Press (first published February 8th 2010)
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 ·  1,396 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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Mar 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jun 27, 2014 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Mir 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 09, 2011 rated it really liked it

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
Dale Harcombe
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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 ...more
Joan Winnek
May 12, 2011 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
Jee Koh
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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.
William Lawrence
Dec 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: poetry
Not sure about this United States Poet Laureate, MacArthur Fellow, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet's other works, but this collection is a throw away. Honestly, it's almost unreadable. I seldom bother to write poetry reviews because most collections have something special to them, regardless of content, style, or form. But there are award-winning, widely published, widely sold books like this one that bother (and puzzle) me. The short two to three word lines have no rhythm or reason. Ryan might ...more
Mike Lindgren
Apr 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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,
James Murphy
Nov 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Heather Hasselle
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-poetry
I ate these poems in a night. They're small and contain a satisfying crunch, like cereal. With every spoonful of a poem, you'll crave more. When at the end, you've consumed them all, pour yourself another bowl and do it all over again.
Two Readers in Love
Like Marianne Moore and Emily Dickinson, Kay Ryan has many deceptively simple poems that later turn out to become my favorites. I start by blowing by them, like the idiot I reliably am, and then keep circling back to them again and again. Favorites include: "Mockingbird", "Say Uncle", "Bad Day", and "Why We Must Struggle" (with it's lovely echoes of Dickinson's "Success is Counted Sweetest.")

For many years I kept a tiny handwritten copy of "New Clothes" tucked in front of my bank card, but when
Roxanne Russell
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's her politeness
one loathes: how she
isn't insistent, how
she won't impose, how
nothing's so urgent
it won't wait. Like
a meek guest you tolerate
she goes her way--the muse
you'd have leap at your throat,
you'd spring to obey.

Kay Ryan really knocks me out. Even with a conscious effort to show some restraint, I flagged 18 poems in this collection. Every poem is a tiny little juggernaut of language mastery and universal insight.
She never uses first person, yet these poems can be intensely personal. Her
Mar 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Michael P.
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jun 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In my bookcase for a few years - the bookcase closest to my bed. A collection I keep returning to.
Jason McKinney
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After over two years of slowly making my way through this, I finally reached the end of the road. Poetry isn't necessarily my bread and butter but Ryan is an enjoyable poet for those looking to dip their toe in the water.

There were times where I definitely had my patience tried and I certainly wasn't into each and every one of these, but overall there are clever, well-written poems here. There's humor where you might expect cerebral, dry verse. Ryan is a good place to start if you're wanting to
Mar 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.

Tristan Harward
Dec 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
John Pappas
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ryan's immaculately measured voice occasionally dips into a dry wryness but always re-emerges to retain a deft control over her deceptively simple word-play. These poems about art, the natural world and scientific phenomena seem, at first glance, to be casually observational. A second, third or fourth look at each reveals much more.This collection, augmenting selections from previous works with new poems, is not only filled with superb work that stands alone, but many poems are arranged so that ...more
Apr 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Michael Vagnetti
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Dan Gobble
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books, poetry
What a great collection of incisive shards from the pen of Kay Ryan. Each poem a tightly packed nugget of wisdom. No words wasted. Short and to a finely honed point, Ryan's collection gave me many facets off of which to bounce the light of my own life and experiences to see them reflected in a new way, revealing something deeper within. I have a long list from this book to copy down in my journal for more reflection.
Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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

Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorite
I am allowed to keep reviewing this?? Okay, then, I enjoy every time I take in any of the poems in this extraordinary collection. And -- especially for being so small -- it's amazing how they can change meanings so regularly. Really I'm not someone who appreciates poetry ... Or I wasn't ... But now I'm just grateful to have been in the same place at the same time as these poems were where they were.
Apr 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
One is never really done with a poetry book like this. I have read each poem at least once and will continue rereading them for a year. Most of the poems are completely delightful, often funny, the right kind of wit causing the reader to think at least twice. The poems are short and so it's easy to sit down and read a few in any odd time. I highly recommend this book.
Apr 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Heather Mize
Nov 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.

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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
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…