What are we to make of Kay Ryan, recently named as the new U.S. Poet Laureate? Is there any honor in being named to the post at all? After Billy Collins, I thought not. When Charles Simic was so honored, i thought, "well, maybe so." I read a selection of Kay Ryan's work, and came away pleasantly surprised by poems that clunk you over the head, with tight language, but retain a sense of cool vagueness. It's like, "something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?" to drop a Dylanism. And all her poems seem to end abruptly, with a jarring crunch, like a fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier. I have to admit it -- I like her. Check out the following poem. The "nightmare water that won't break" gets me every time.
by Kay Ryan
In harmony with the rule of irony—
which requires that we harbor the enemy
on this side of the barricade—the shell
of the unborn eagle or pelican, which is made
to give protection till the great beaks can harden,
is the first thing to take up poison.
The mineral case is soft and gibbous
as the moon in a lake—an elastic,
rubbery, nightmare water that won't break.
Elsewhere, also, I see the mockeries of struggle,
a softness over people.
--from Flamingo Watching. Copyright © 1994 Copper Beech Press.