Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kay Ryan

In my workshop this week, there are a few of us who tend to fashion shorter, more compact poems. Someone brought up the poet Kay Ryan as a wonderful model to study for short, powerful poems, so I took some time to look her up. I found this poem by her on the site for Blue Flower Arts:


Extreme exertion
isolates a person
from help,
discovered Atlas.
Once a certain
ratio collapses,
there is so little
others can do:
they can't
lend a hand
with Brazil
and not stand
on Peru.

Kay Ryan

Ryan catches our attention with what appears to be a simple assertion; but the "discovered Atlas" grounds this found knowledge in a particular character. Atlas supporting the earth is an effective image here, because we can all identify with the feeling of burden; how cares can pile up on us until we reach a breaking point. The speaker implies that taking all of our burdens on ourselves actually alienates us from those who might offer relief; to wait too long is to risk collapsing into a crisis, when it may be too late for help.


beaner12 said...
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Danny Sillada said...

Short poems are difficult to write because you have to accustom yourself of creating imagery in a single noun, verb or adjective to describe the detail of the “mountain”, so to say. Second, the use of allusions (effective in short poem) must be commonly understood in a particular society or culture where the poem is addressed to (although poetry is a universal language). Third, considering its minimalist tone and character, it always poses an open-ended question and proposition where the reader (recipient)is left to complete and process the poem’s thoughts and emotions.

The advantage of short poem is the practical accessibility to the reader with no complex imageries and symbols to be deciphered, but still achieves its thematic impact inasmuch as the longer poem does.

Sorry Amy, I’m just sharing these thoughts from my essay in progress on “performative poetry” in performance art.

Amy said...

Thanks for those thoughts, Danny. I find the short poem challenging, because the poet is choosing to constrain herself to the most sparse language possible. It is more difficult to step out of an image or metaphor to comment on it. Ryan manages it in the last sentence: "they can't / lend a hand / with Brazil / and not stand / on Peru." She must do this commentary in twelve words while retaining a rhyme scheme.

Danny Sillada said...

I've been searching for poets writing short poems and I can't find one than you posted here - Kay Ryan. Thanks for this; I'll cite her as a reference to my critical essay on "Performative Poetry".

I have two favorite short poems by e.e. cummings and Carl Sandburg. I don’t have copy of e.e. cummings’ “wheelbarrow” something (I forgot the title). Below is by Carl Sandburg:


The fog comes:
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Danny Sillada said...

Finally, I found "The Red Wheelborrow", not by E.E. cummings but by William Carlos William:


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Amy said...

Hi Danny,

Besides Kay Ryan, the poet Jean Valentine was mentioned to me as an expert writer of short poems. I don't know much about her, but I plan to look her up soon.

The poem you cite by William Carlos Williams (there's an "s" on the end of his last name) is an iconic poem in American/English language literature. It is generally viewed as a statement of the existence of a concrete reality about which we can write; that the imagery of the wheelbarrow and the chickens stands for something "real" upon which we can rely. This view stands in contrast to someone like Wallace Stevens, who grapples with the futility of trying to convey a reality that can never be conveyed, because both the poet and the poem itself act as filters and obstacles to the reality of the experience.

I hope this helps a little. I love the short poem myself, and strive to do it well.

Anonymous said...

Also check out the short lyric poetry of Gregory Orr, at the University of Virginia.
Early books: The Red House, Gathering the Bones Together.

Anonymous said...

And A.R. Ammons has some wonderful short poems -- collected in "The Really Short Poems of..."

artemisandollie said...

I adore Kay Ryan. She writes pretty regularly for Poetry magazine and had a really funny piece last year on this annual Poetry conference held in Canada, I believe. The issue following has a rather lengthy attack, followed by her (very modest) rebuttal. I tried to find it online to quote for you, but couldn't. Sorry. I did however find this and I don't recall it's original source; I've sent it to friends many times since. I like your blog, I just found it yesterday.

Years ago I wrote a poem that went on too long but started well; it began, "If a fairy makes a fist/ who's impressed?/ How can lightness insist?" And that is what I would still like to know: how can lightness insist? In The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera writes wistfully of the eponymous substance, describing how Beethoven once converted a perfectly inconsequential joke into a "serious quartet." Kundera contemplates how much more remarkable it would have been if Beethoven had achieved the reverse, making "heavy go light."I don't know why lightness isn't more talked about, more valued, more pursued in poetry. I suspect it is out of the fear that one will be"taken lightly." But I ask, is there a sensation more exquisite than the feeling of having the burden of oneself borne off by a poem? The burden only, note; not the self. One's atoms are mysteriously distanced from one another. That is to say, one still has all one's own atoms, but for the moment they are not the trouble they were.


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.
Kay Ryan

Anonymous said...

My black plastic Ipod is laser engraved, "Imagine suspended jellyfish floating soft as moons"

liontuck said...

i really really enjoyed the atlas and the blandeur poem, thanks for posting them

Jacquelyn said...

I'v been at writing concise poetry and stumbled upon this blog. What a great resource! Just reading the comments has introduced me to some great poems and poets. Thanks!