Dominic is a novelist, freelance writer, and editor. In the following
essay, she studies the language, imagery, and tone of Ryan’s ‘‘All Shall Be Restored,’’ demonstrating the ways in which the poem’s uplifting title contrasts sharply with its apocalyptic content.
In Ryan’s ‘‘All Shall Be Restored,’’ the
poet develops a sense of gravity and inevitability that belies the sense of hope that the poem’s title implies. It is possible to view the process Ryan describes in the poem as a regenerative natural cycle, and Ryan’s use of the term restoration suggests healing and a return to an ideal state. However, the process of restoration that Ryan outlines in the course of the poem is detailed as a series of destructive events, events that erase the course of the world’s history. In language and rhythm, Ryan’s poem is suggestive of biblical prophecy. The work is imbued with a sense of inevitability and tinged with a hint of horror at the fate of humanity. While the title of the poem and the repeated usage of the notion of restoration nudge the reader toward an interpretation of the poem that is positive and hopeful, the work also possesses apocalyptic overtones that cannot be ignored.
From the first line of ‘‘All Shall Be Restored,’’ Ryan employs the language of biblical prophecy. (A prophecy is a prediction about the future.) Repeatedly, Ryan uses a future verb tense to convey whatwill happeninthe future. Notably, Ryan does not use the verb ‘‘will,’’ but rather, the more poetic, and more biblical, ‘‘shall.’’ Immediately she establishes a tone in which the reader is alert to the prognostication (prediction) being made and the seriousness with which the poet is making it. The rhythm and repetition Ryan uses in the poem’s first eight lines, like her verb choice, invites comparison to the opening verses of the Bible. Ryan uses the word ‘‘and’’ to connect the various natural features that will return to an original state. The use of this list format with the word ‘‘and,’’ along with the repetitive nature of this list making, brings to mind the biblical book of Genesis, in which the writer narrates the story of the creation of the world. Ryan’s unmaking of the world is thus linked with a reference to its creation. As Genesis opens, the writer lists what God has created, employing the word ‘‘and’’ often in this inventory. For example, in Genesis 1:3, the writer states ‘‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’’ The words ‘‘and,’’ ‘‘God,’’ and ‘‘light’’ are repeated several times in subsequent passages. The writer of Genesis, in describing the process of creation, repeats details and the word ‘‘and,’’ establishing patterns and rhythms that are carried through the rest of the chapter. Ryan similarly, in describing the process of restoration, repeats details and the word ‘‘and,’’ constructing patterns and rhythms that inspire a comparison to the Bible. This comparison underscores the scope of the process that Ryan describes. The restoration of the world, as she envisions it, is actually its undoing. As a destructive process, Ryan suggests, itisasmonumental as the
creative process of forming the world. Whether or not that creation occurred through divine or natural means is beside the point Ryan is making; the grand scale of formation and destruction is the comparison to which Ryan’s poetry points.
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The place of humanity in the world is a subject of contemplation in «All Shall Be Restored» The natural world the poet describes, and Ryan’s vision for the fate of the world, is interjected with a human element aboutathirdofthe waythrough the poem. From details concerned with grains of sand and boulders and cliffs, Ryan turns to man-made items, such as bronze horses, coins, cannons, and cookware. All the items humanity has fashioned Ryan’s ‘‘All Shall Be Restored’’ first appeared in the 1996 volume of poetry Elephant Rocks, published by Grove Press Kay Ryan (John Lamparski / WireImage)
Richard Pederson, Ryan’s father, was an oil driller. Raised in the desert region of Southern California, Ryan graduated in 1963 from Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, California. She went on to the University of California at Los Angeles, receiving a B. A. in 1967 and an M. A. in Critical attention to Ryan’s work was slow in coming She built up a small following for her poetry as it began being accepted in literary journals. After the publication of two volumes of poetry, one which was self-published and one which was published by a small press, and neither of which received much attention, Flamingo Watching was published in 1994.
The volume was well received In ‘‘All Shall Be Restored,’’ Ryan explores the world’s natural cycle of self-regeneration She describes epic shifts in the earth’s natural features, envisioning the world reforming itself over time and returning to an early, primitive, whole state. In an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan (commissioned to set to music poems by Ryan including ‘‘All Shall Be Restored’’) in a 2009 issue of the Amherst Bulletin, Bonnie In the following essay, Hammer explains how Ryan’s poetry is a model of the experience or idea it investigates When she reads her poetry in public, Kay Ryan does something unusual: she reads poems, at least some poems, twice. Few poets write poems short enough to permit that repetition, or interesting enough to reward it, but Ryan’s invite (and demand) rereading: they are that intricate and quick. They are built like jokes that create
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