cover image Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose

Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose

Kay Ryan. Grove, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4818-6

Pulitzer-winner and former U.S. poet laureate Ryan (Elephant Rocks) delivers a brilliant essay collection. Each entry is an exploration into poetry, whether Ryan is revealing her own idiosyncrasies as a writer or considering the lives of poets, such as the eccentric Stevie Smith. Sympathetic to Smith’s celebration of the outwardly placid life of “regular habits,” Ryan warns fellow poets against favoring superficial novelty and tritely picturesque “Kodak” memories in their work, cautioning, “We must be less in love with foreground if we want to see far.” Meanwhile, in “A Consideration of Poetry,” she explains the inherent comedy in poetry. Her critical prose eloquently exposes a poem’s deeper meaning, looking, for instance, at how Gerard Manley Hopkins reshapes language in his poem “Spring and Fall.” Most remarkable is Ryan’s ability to illuminate in an unpretentious manner writers including Jorges Luis Borges, whose This Craft of Verse contains a “constant feeling of blurring, or interpenetration, of [literary] categories.” Much like her description of poet William Bronk’s work, this collection proves “there are moments of aesthetic transport which weld beauty to beauty, occasional angles which offer a glimpse of something endless and compelling.” For poetry enthusiasts and skeptics alike, this will be an inviting portal into the mind of one of America’s greatest living writers. (Apr.)