Recommended Reading: The Niagara River, by Kay Ryan

Back in late July, I featured a poem called “Thin,” by Kay Ryan.  I liked it so much that I went to the library that week to find a full-length book of hers, and the library obligingly provided The Niagara River. As a child, I spent many happy summer afternoons jumping into the Niagara River from my Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary Kay’s dock, so the whole thing seemed beshert.

Image courtesy of  George Stojkovic /

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic /

I love these poems. They’re unlike any others in my pretty extensive poetry library. They’re short, rarely flowing from one page onto another, and the lines are short as well, often just three or four syllables in length. I found the rhythm, and the occasional rhymes, jarring, but not unpleasantly so. Many of the poems end with a subtle twist, a line that forces the whole poem into sharper focus. These poems call for slow reading and then re-reading; I wanted to savor and remember them.

Some of my favorites in this volume are “Carrying a Ladder,” “Sharks’ Teeth,” “Green Hills,” “Ideal Audience,” “Hide and Seek,” and “The Well or the Cup.” I hope you’ll have a look at them for yourself.

“a skin of ice”


Image courtesy of Tina Phillips /

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips /

Add another name to the long list of poets I’m embarrassed not to know more about: Kay Ryan. The former poet laureate is one of the most decorated living poets, having won the Guggenheim, the MacArthur, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and the Pulitzer. I feel like quite a Philistine.

Ms. Ryan is apparently known (to others) for her short lines and intellectual precision, both of which I found in her poem “Thin.” You can read the poem, which, refreshingly, has nothing to do with the latest diet craze, here.