The Fourth Wise Man

by Kay Ryan

The fourth wise man
disliked travel. If
you walk, there’s the
gravel. If you ride,
there’s the camel’s attitude.
He far preferred
to be inside in solitude
to contemplate the star
that had been getting
so much larger
and more prolate lately—
stretching vertically
(like the souls of martyrs)
toward the poles
(or like the yawns of babies).

Don’t Look Back
Chinese Foot Chart

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  1. During all of last week, while we were travelling to San Francisco and New Orleans, I had a few books of poetry by Kay Ryan with me. This is from her collection, Say Uncle.

    I love her work, as it’s so delightfully compact and compressed. Her poems often require me to go back and read them more than once, to try to trace out her narrative logic… but rather than be frustrated by the work, it feels much more pleasant to me.

    One of the things that new writers (and students in MFA programs) are warned about is the overuse of abstractions. Show don’t tell, is the key phrase uttered in many a workshop. But with Ryan’s poems, she pulls it off somehow – mixing the specific with the grandiose. Her rhymes kick some pretty serious ass too.

    I thought it was funny that I came across this poem again, while sitting at an airport waiting for a connecting flight. I was pretty done with travel at the time, and got a kick out of reading these lines.

    avoision Reply

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