Chunk 8


(transition?) In this linguistic milieu, Ryan wears her learning lightly. She is college-educated, but not a product of any workshop; she also came to Po-Biz late in life. This blessed isolation appears to have saved her from the McPoem that so many of us workshop veterans are trying to wipe from our soles. She Ryan makes the observations and asks the questions that really matter outside the world of literary-theorist name-dropping or the perpetually-twitchy Postmodernist snarkfest. Language is not something that she twists in your face like a grapefruit in the puss; instead, it’s a means to understanding a really interesting particular rock or bird that she wants you to stop and contemplate for a while, and an invitation to make associations with and draw larger inferences from the object of her focus. Consider “Caps” (29) or “Post-Construction” (51) or “Nothing Getting Past” (53). (details?) She frames her questions without self-consciousness. Some of these are of the gee-whiz variety, but—gee whiz!–they aren’t the same kinds of uncritically worshipful nature observations that, say, Mary Oliver gives us. They are more like Emily Dickinson’s. I say this not because Ryan is a female American poet (and thus inescapably chained to the Belle of Amherst), but because her observations of the particular are linked to the larger epistemological realm (the fly, the snake) in a philosophical, not mystical, way. Oliver’s language too often resembles a battery losing its charge: sometimes illuminating, yes, but not blindingly so; Ryan’s language and metaphor and argument conduct forked lightning, where Oliver’s language too often resembles a battery losing its charge: sometimes illuminating, yes, but not blindingly so:


Imagine a sea
of ultramarine
suspending a
million jellyfish
as soft as moons.
Imagine the
interlocking uninsistent
tunes of drifting things.
This is the deep machine
that powers the lamps
of dreams and accounts
for their bluish tint.
How can something
so grand and serene
vanish again and again
without a hint? (67)

(transition?) Writing in World Literature Review, Fred Dings complains that Ryan relies on the “pedantic” aphorism as closure device:

Ryan’s poems are also often pedantic, which is not a fault, especially when they teach something worthy and delightful, as they often do. Nevertheless, too many, for my taste, seem to depend on some final observation or trope to save what is otherwise a pretty mundane poem, as in the poem “Chinese Foot Chart”. . . . This tendency to hinge a poem’s success on some final aphoristic click is common in Ryan’s work, and while it is often exhilarating the first time through, the poems seldom invite me back (73).

I find Ryan’s work to be didactic, but never pedantic in the pejorative sense of that word. In terms of closure, Ryan’s tight gems may have more in common with Shakespeare’s sonnet (or even Pope’s rhymed couplet), which hardly seems an indictable offense; the closures seem neither overly neat nor contrived. (explain why)


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