cover image Erratic Facts

Erratic Facts

Kay Ryan. Grove, $24 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2405-0

Ryan, a MacArthur Fellow and former Poet Laureate, follows her Pulitzer Prize–winning The Best of It with a ninth collection of her signature short, brilliant poems. Drawing upon epigraphs from such varied sources as W.G. Sebald, NPR, and the New York Times science section, Ryan teases out thoughts with shifting rhyme schemes as her poems display their alluring logic and peculiar practicality. In Ryan’s world, a water wheel’s buckets are “all the ornaments/ of torque,” while an anticipated conversation becomes something “sizzling inside a face,” and a crow’s stride “criss crosses/ as though/ each step/ checked the/ last.” But her quirky lightness is deceptive; each instance Ryan captures and examines reveals the darkness beneath its charming veneer. Her poem “Almost” likens the movements of thought to a slaughterhouse: “The mind/ likes the squeeze/ of chutes and channels./ It will go up the ramp/ with cattle, pleased—/ almost to the last minute.” In another piece, she toys with obsessively returning to the same thought that “can’t/ deepen and yet/ you think it again:/ you have lost/ count. A larger/ amount is/ no longer a/ larger amount.” With Ryan, readers make new discoveries and then discover what’s been lost: “There are hills/ you long to touch,/ velvet to the eyes.// So much is soft/ the wrong size.” [em](Oct.) [/em]