In the April 12, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Adam Kirsch tells us that only the most eminent poets command the kind of publication that Kay Ryan’s The  Best of It:  New and Selected Poems has gotten from Grove/Atlantic Press.  He goes on to describe our Poet Laureate as  someone whose sensibility goes deeper than what it might seem to be on the surface.  In fact, he says, Thoreau would have understood Ryan’s sensibility perfectly.It is quite possible that there is no higher compliment in the world of letters and, as this Kay Ryan poem shows us, it is– without question–deserved.

Photo: Jane Hirshfield


Surfaces serve
their own purposes,
strive to remain
constant (all lives
want that). There is  
a skin, not just on  
peaches but on oceans
(note the telltale
slough of foam on beaches).
Sometimes it’s loose,
as in the case
of cats: you feel how a  
second life slides
under it. Sometimes it
fits. Take glass.
Sometimes it outlasts
its underside. Take reefs.

The private lives of surfaces
are innocent, not devious.
Take the one-dimensional
belief of enamel in itself,
the furious autonomy
of luster (crush a pearl—
it’s powder), the whole
curious seamlessness
of how we’re each surrounded
and what it doesn’t teach.

From Elephant Rocks: Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Kay Ryan. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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