May 10, 2013

Kay Ryan and line breaks in poetry

Five poems today by Kay Ryan, who was the US Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010. 

Her  poetry charms me despite me always left scratching my head about the line breaks. I never really have developed an intuitive feel for where to put line breaks in any poem but in Kay Ryan's poems, more than anywhere else, they beguile! At least with Creeley, it seems to work seamlessly and magically (it does seem like magic when it so seemless; he does work magic with words in addition to that deep-rooted philosophy in his poems that I love), but with Kay Ryan, though the poems work for me overall and usually have a simple and direct way of inviting you in, I am totally lost about why she has line breaks as often as she does.

Read the poems below and see what I mean...


Weakness and doubt
by Kay Ryan
Weakness and doubt
are symbionts
famous throughout
the fungal orders,
which admire pallors,
rusts, grey talcums,
the whole palette
of dusts and powders
of the rot kingdom
and do not share
our kind’s disgust
at dissolution,
following the
interplay of doubt
and weakness
as a robust sort of business;
the way we
love construction,
they love hollowing.


by Kay Ryan

Like slime
inside a
stagnant tank

its green
from lime
to emerald

a dank
but less

than success
is in general.


Failure 2
by Kay Ryan

There could be nutrients
in failure -
deep amendments
to the shallow soil
of wishes.
Think of the
dark and bitter
flavors of
black ales
and peasant loaves.
Think of licorices.
Think about
the tales of how
Indians put fishes
under corn plants.
Next time hope
relinquishes a form
think about that.


by Kay Ryan

Patience is 
wider than one 
once envisioned, 
with ribbons 
of rivers 
and distant 
ranges and 
tasks undertaken 
and finished 
with modest 
relish by 
natives in their 
native dress. 
Who would 
have guessed 
it possible 
that waiting 
is sustainable — 
a place with 
its own harvests. 
Or that in 
time's fullness 
the diamonds 
of patience 
couldn't be 
from the genuine 
in brilliance 
or hardness.  


Don’t Look Back
by Kay Ryan

This is not
a problem
for the neckless.
Fish cannot
swivel their heads
to check on their fry;
no one expects
this. They are
torpedoes of
compact capsules
that rely
on the odds
for survival,
unfollowed by
the exact and modest
number of goslings
the S-necked
goose is—
who if she
looks back
acknowledges losses
and if she does not
also loses.

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