Kay Ryan’s recent appointment as the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. Salon has compared her poems to “Fabergé eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder.” The two hundred poems in Ryan’s The Best of It offer a stunning retrospective of her work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems of which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and general readers.
Ryan, the current U.S. poet laureate, may well be the oddest and wisest poet to hold that prestigious post. Her tiny, skinny poems pack a punch unlike anything else in contemporary poetry, though not unlike haiku, if haiku could be cut with a dash of Groucho Marx. This, her first retrospective volume, which also contains a book's worth of new poems, is a much-needed introduction to the work of one of our best and most accessible poets. She asks the necessary questions hiding just beneath the obvious ones: "Why isn't it all/ more marked,/ why isn't every wall/ graffitied, every park tree/ stripped/... / Not why people are; why not more violent?" Odd rhymes draw crystal clear relations between disparate thoughts we never realized had always gone together: "As/ though our garden/ could be one bean/ and we'd rejoice if/ it flourishes, as/ though one bean/ could nourish us." Pithy poems manage to encapsulate far more than their few words should be able to hold, as in "Bitter Pill," a new poem: "A bitter pill/ doesn't need/ to be swallowed/ to work. Just/ reading your name/ on the bottle/ does the trick." Sassy, smart, and deep as they are hilarious, Ryan's poems are among the best.