This Morning

Michael Ryan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $20 (96p) ISBN 978-0-547-68459-8
Sometimes, the poems in Michael Ryan’s fifth book—the first since his New and Selected Poems won the Kingsley Tufts Award in 2004—concentrate on matters so close at hand they appear charmingly picayune: a garbage truck persona poem, a reminiscence about surprisingly delicious airplane food, a description of a trusty coffee mug (“Glaze crazed and lip chipped, my beloved mug/ has suffered one too many Hi-Temp Power Scrubs”). But Ryan’s most obvious literary forbear is the British master Philip Larkin; Ryan’s own shivering depths, like Larkin’s, emerge when his frank and precise vision of the everyday stirs into darker material. “The Dog” charts a speaker’s frustrations when caring for an aged mutt whose owners have traveled to Big Sur to recover from their baby daughter’s death. Despite the speaker’s cruel sarcasm (“ ‘The dog is old,’ he said. Oh. Thanks.”) and apparent impatience (“I don’t like the dog. It stinks”), the poem’s conclusion forces us to consider that the animal may serve as the child’s most authentic mourner. “Dachau” recounts an uncanny day-trip to the concentration camp, a tragically comic miscommunication ending the journey. The language is sociable, alive with ordinary speech—though a number of poems also fall into well-wrought stanzaic and rhyming form. These are poems of marriage, citizenship, and the wages of family strife that pry impeccable tools into the cracks of unsettled lives. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2012
Release date: 03/01/2012
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