Monthly Archives: November 2015

“The Assault of Abundance”

The Grand Canal, Venice by J. M. W. Turner Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Grand Canal, Venice
by J. M. W. Turner
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


by Kay Ryan

There is a category
of person eased
by constraint, soothed
when things cease.
It is the assault
of abundance
from which they seek
release. The gorgeous
intensities of Venice
would work best
for these people
at a distance:
sitting, for example,
in a departing
train car, feeling the
menace settle.

from Erratic Facts © Grove Press, 2015.

This poem reminds me of another of Kay Ryan’s called “Blandeur,” which opens with the lines: “If it please God,/ let less happen.” Both pieces seem written for those who can only take in so much at a time and must now and then withdraw from the world to recharge. I am certainly of that “category/ of person eased/ by constraint, soothed/ when things cease.” Even the thrill of travel often proves too overwhelming for me: I once spent the better part of a two-week vacation in Barcelona curled up in my bedroom reading, often venturing no farther than the corner panadería for pastries.

Kay Ryan’s spare poems, with their erratic yet wonderful rhymes, have been likened to those by Emily Dickinson—another famously sensitive poet who seldom strayed from her homestead in Amherst. Surely, she too would want to keep “the gorgeous/ intensities of Venice/ . . . at a distance,” and would much rather observe them from afar or enjoy them from the safe remove of memory. Yet even for others who embrace life at full-tilt and thrive on the upheavals of travel and change, Ryan’s poem remains relevant, pointing as it does to the fact that it’s often only from a place of detachment that we are able to find perspective and see the events of our lives most clearly, when we reach that still point which invites reflection. It’s only when leaving or having left a place—”in a departing train car,” for instance—that we are able to take in the abundance of a bright and noisy world clamoring for our attention.

—James Crews