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 and was followed two years later by Elephant Rocks, the volume that contains ‘‘All Shall Be Restored.’’ Andrew Frisardi reviewed that volume in 1997 in Poetry magazine. Frisardi is among the first of Ryan’s reviewers to compare her work to that of Emily Dickinson, a comparison that is now repeatedly made in response to the insightful brevity of Ryan’s work. In describing the volume as a whole, Frisardi states: ‘‘So original, so astute, so pleasurable are the poems in this book, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they’re still being read long after the current critical fashions are dated.’’
Former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the
poet Dana Gioia was one of Ryan’s earliest supporters. In an article for the Winter 1998–1999 issue of the Dark Horse, a poetry journal, Gioia offers a lengthy, laudatory assessment of Ryan’s work. He commends her language as reflective of ‘‘the shaping hand of a quick and skeptical intelligence,’’ and describes Ryan as a poet who is ‘‘refined, disciplined, and original.’’ Gioia states that ‘‘Like Dickinson, Ryan has found awayof exploring ideas without losing either the musical impulse or imaginative intensity necessary to lyric poetry.’’ Also admiring the compact nature of Ryan’s poems, Gioia observes that the effect of Ryan’s ability to endow a short poem consisting of brief lines with so much meaning ‘‘is complex but never annoyingly cluttered or overly elaborate.’’ In an introduction to Ryan’s work in California Poetry, editors Gioia, Chryss Yost, and Jack Hicks maintain that Ryan’s Elephant Rocks, along with her 2000 volume of verse Say Uncle, ‘‘have confirmed her position as one of the finest poets of her generation.’’
In another anthology, the 2005 100 Essential Modern Poems, editor Joseph Parisi introduces Ryan by stating that her ‘‘witty poems are bright distillations of her precise observations of the world and the vagaries of humankind.’’ Parisi goes on to observe that ‘‘For her wry, idiosyncratic take on life and her use of compact, seemingly simple forms, Ryan is often compared with Emily Dickinson.’’ The Dickinson comparison comes up again in a 2008 American Scholar
essay onRyan by Langdon Hammer, who states, ‘‘Critics compare her poems to those of Robert
Frost and Emily Dickinson—Frost because of their moral seriousness and playful skepticism, and Dickinson because of their small-scale lyric intensity, the power the poems gain from compactness.’’ Hammer goes on to explore Ryan’s unique style and language, finding that her ‘‘language is plain but crowded with internal rhymes that create complex networks of sound, and the syntax is compressed, making those short lines extremely dense.’’ Since Ryan’s work began to be treated seriously by literary critics, it has been lauded for its ability to capture in compact language and efficient structure the weight of emotional and philosophical responses to the world.
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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 Lyric Poetry A lyric poem is a brief work in which the poet expresses personal feelings or emotional responses to a situation or an event. As such an expression, a lyric poem is not the kind of poem that tells a story. A broad category of poetry, it encompasses poems of various structures, but it is characterized 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 Catherine Dominic 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 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
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