Oct 9, 2010

KAY RYAN, "The Edges of Time," Part 2

Student? Footnote. See below.

Photos: another view of things emptying, though not in a frenzy?

Excerpt: 'The Best Of It' : NPR

Sorry to belabor "The Edges of Time," especially since some of you have already noted your preference for seeing a poem as a whole--maybe you would say as an impression rather than a case study. Actually, I think I do too, but when I notice leaves hanging on the tree, I need to talk about them and wonder about their purposes. Are they just decorative, or are they essential to the overall shape, condition, and appeal of the tree? Kay Ryan invites such study in "The Edges of Time."

Other than Kurt Vonnegut (in Slaughterhouse-Five) and Kay Ryan, who thinks of time as viscous? As amber? Who thinks of time or amber as something that holds a swarm of intentions, like bees? And those bees become a “racket of claims” and “A / glittering fan of things / competing to happen.”

I’d never have thought of “unseizing” as a verb, nor time as the amber fist that does the unseizing of those inner bees, nor of things competing to happen, though it now seems that’s exactly what things do. When there’s a frenzy, when we’re late, when time is about to run out, everything competes to happen—to get birthed in a hurry and a flurry.

The bees were in my bonnet, more or less. Why didn’t I hear them till now? I am a fish, very much out of water, which now retreats from sustaining me, though I holler and wiggle desperately on the damp sand.

(Am I a fish with a bonnet full of bees? Apparently do. Try to live with it.).

Notice too that in practically every poem Ryan employs several sound devices, usually rhyme and assonance (identical vowel sounds in proximity). Because the similar sounds are not usually at the ends of lines, where we’re used to hearing them, we might overlook them. Again we must read aloud and go slow, or we’ll miss little gifts like “suspending” and “intentions,” “bees” and “unseizes,” “humming” and “coming.”

And when time is running to its edges, things get frantic. So Ryan hits us with a barrage of short “a” sounds: “stacks . . . back . . . racket . . . flattens . . . fan . . . happen . . . as . . . .” In my ear-mind connection, that short “a” feels thick, over-full, in need of emptying. Maybe I subconsciously hear words like “fat” or “bladder” in other short “a” words. I cannot argue that everyone should hear the short “a” that way, but maybe my ears are not entirely alone.

Then Ryan concludes with an assonance so strong I had to listen twice to notice it wasn’t exact rhyme: “. . . when seas / retreat.”

Finally, I’d argue that these poetic devices are not baubles. Also, Ryan’s perspectives on the edges of time aren’t just new; they also make sense. They’re reasonable propositions, even as they matter-of-factly portray the desperation of victims as time retreats to its edges like an ebbing sea.

“Logic” doesn’t seem quite the right word, but Ryan’s perspectives on all this are at least plausible. When we combine plausibility with the fresh and the new in words and ideas, we get creativity, originality, a way of seeing an experience that’s hard or impossible to talk about in straightforward prose. As poets are fond of saying, someone is "saying the unsayable." We get a rendering of an important idea, and at least for a moment, it seems there is no other way to understand or utter it. It was there all along, but Kay Ryan saw it and said it.

Excerpt: 'The Best Of It' : NPR

(Note: If you're a student using any of these words or ideas, be sure to footnote properly).



Anonymous said...

Did you give us the chicken part once before? I liked it then and still do.

I'm not fascinated by someone who stretches language for stretching's sake. But I think she stretches thoughts.

Banjo52 said...

AH, yes to the chicken question.

"She stretches thoughts." I sure think so. To get from the abstraction of Time to dying fish on the beach, by the route she takes, with her economy of language . . . . I think she's tough without being cold.

Jean Spitzer said...

I just re-read the Edges of Time. She has a clear "time running out"/ "tide going out" metaphor at the end.

I didn't like the poems when I first read them. They seemed dense and obscure. They're growing on me with repeated reading.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Kay Ryan knows where Lake Los Angeles is.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, good! I have felt that way about some of Wallace Stevens, and I've been glad I stuck with some of them. But readers also have to know when to fold 'em.

PA, if I hear you correctly, it's good to share some little piece of something with a writer/artist--an event or a KIND of a place, for example.

Brenda's Arizona said...

You know that when I walk by a stack of unfinished 'things', I hear humming coming from it.

"humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things "

How can she/a poet put words to what we can't? Of course unfinished and put-off stacks hum - I just never thought to mention it! And when the put-off things get to me, the hum turns into a crescendo and it boils. WOW.

(Aside: went to see Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers last night. Love too many of his songs - when Martin announced they would be playing some 'new' songs, someone yelled out "FREEBIRD!". Cracked everyone up. But his talents surpass anyone's right to have. And I am glad he has them. Thanks for the recommendation!).

Banjo52 said...

"How can she/a poet put words to what we can't?" That's the real mystery, isn't it. Also, I think a lot of poets would say they pay more attention than the rest of us do, so they see more and can say more. Of course there's also the simple attention to language itself. Hard to tell where the idea produces the language or the reverse.

Steve Martin's amazing--that kind of humor AND that kind of musicianship.

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