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July 19, 2008

Awesome ... Kay Ryan is Poet Laureate!

Kay Ryan was just named US Poet Laureate.

I was just talking about Kay Ryan with someone, I think my cousin ... not because of this but because he asked me who I liked. I've loved Ryan since I first encountered her poetry with the book Say Uncle, which I hosted a reading for at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books about eight years ago. She was very nice, and a good reader, with a quiet wit. I really liked her and I liked her poetry more.

So yay for us that we have such a terrific poet laureate! And congratulations to Kay Ryan!

I don't know how cool it is to post an entire poem by somebody else, but I'm sure someone will tell me if it makes them feel angry or decopyrighted. So here's what I feel is a fairly representative poem--not just of how her poems go, but of how she thinks of her work. This piece is also a good example of the free and precise way she plays with what should be a fairly simple and straightforward meter and rhyme scheme ... but in her hands, isn't.

Her work is smart, witty, fun, funny, intelligent, educated, knowledgeable, and not at all gratuitous. And you can't say all of this about way too many poets these days.

Death By Fruit

Only the crudest
of the vanitas set
ever thought
you had to get
a skull into the picture
whether you needed
its tallowy color
near the grapes
or not. Others,
stopping to consider
shapes and textures,
often discovered
that eggs or aubergines
went better, or leeks
or a plate of string beans.
A skull is so dominant.
It takes so much
bunched-up drapery,
such a ponderous
display of ornate cutlery,
just to make it
less prominent.
The greatest masters
preferred the
subtlest vanitas,
modestly trusting
to fruit baskets
to whisper
ashes to ashes,
relying on the
poignant exactness
of oranges to release
like a citrus mist
the always fresh fact
of how hard we resist
how briefly we're pleased.


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