Carrying a Ladder by Kay Ryan

Nige appreciates female poets in general, and Kay Ryan in particular…

Brit once made the observation that I read an awful lot of female novelists. It hadn’t really occurred to me, but of course he’s right – I do. Why? It’s certainly nothing programmatic – it’s just that (as it seems to me) for several decades now, so many of the best novelists, especially in England, have been women.

I don’t know why this is – perhaps the shaping of the novel by Jane Austen and Henry James somehow ‘feminised’ it, playing to the traditional strengths of women rather than men – psychological and emotional insight, fascination with nuances of behaviour and dialogue – or is that all stereotypical (after all James was a man)?

Anyway, I realise that my predilection for female writers also extends to poetry – at least American poetry, where my recent reading has involved Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, and another poet I discovered (like so much else for which I’m grateful) by way of Anecdotal Evidence: Kay Ryan, who recently served a stint as America’s poet laureate.

Here is one of hers which I keep going back to and which seems to me a marvel of compressed wisdom and perfect placing of words…

Carrying a Ladder

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.

So simple, so true – and so in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

7 thoughts on “Carrying a Ladder by Kay Ryan

  1. Gaw
    January 26, 2012 at 07:34

    I can see why this is good but I’m a sucker for lyricism and this doesn’t seem to contain any, at least to my eye – it’s very cerebral. Following on from your comment on the Bosch post the other day, I find it interesting that your taste in poetry seems to be of such a different tenor to your taste in painting. Kay Ryan vs Titian… quite a contrast there!

    ian russell
    January 26, 2012 at 09:18

    I like this. I’ve read it a few times already. My ignorance of poetry is appalling, I had no idea America had a poet laureate. Now I suppose all countries do. Can we have a list?

  3. Worm
    January 26, 2012 at 09:43

    Would have been a great poem to read out at Norman Wisdom’s funeral

    January 26, 2012 at 10:21

    Comment of the Month, Worm!

    January 26, 2012 at 11:47

    I wouldn’t call it cerebral, Gaw – it has its own music, with all those half-rhymes and sounds chiming off each other, and is not as direct a statement as it seems. And I think Titian – at least in his later phases – has a terrific poise and restraint. His late paintings are very pared down – tho not as pared down as KR (but what is?).

    January 26, 2012 at 12:51

    Could a man write that poem, perhaps one with a strong feminine side?
    Remember that story of fingers and toes Nige, here’s some testosterone fueled male verse on the very subject.

    Twenty frozen fingers, twenty frozen toes
    Two blistered faces, frostbite on the nose
    One looks like Herzog who dropped his gloves on top
    And Lachernal tripped and fell, thought he never stop.
    Bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop

    “Take me down to Oudot” was all that he would say
    “He’ll know what to do now” said Lionel Terray
    “Your blood is like black pudding” said Oudot, with his knife
    “It is not too late to amputate if I can save your life”
    Chop chop chop chop chop chop chop chop chop

    No more tiny fingers, no more tiny toes
    The memory lingers but the digit goes
    In an eastern railway carriage, where the river Ganges flows
    There are twenty tiny fingers and twenty tiny toes
    Chop chop chop chop chop chop chop chop chop

    The Ullapool GP, Dr Tom Patey, climbing legend, sadly now in some other place where, one hopes, he learned to tie knots properly.

    January 26, 2012 at 13:42

    Wonderful Malty!

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