A Difficult Grace
On Poets, Poetry, and Writing

Michael Ryan

"In its depth and excellence, this crisp, passionate, and learned book is a significant contribution by an important American poet."—Robert Pinsky


"A Difficult Grace presents a challenging, considered definition of the art, discriminates among poems and poets, and indicates poetry's place in the human spirit and in society. Ryan's bold, essayistic manner draws on a scholarly knowledge of literary history and of formal matters. . . . The book is well written in a way that expresses conviction as well as knowledge. In its depth and excellence, this crisp, passionate, and learned book is a significant contribution by an important American poet."
—Robert Pinsky

"With articulate scrutiny, Ryan reaffirms the necessary connections of ‘tradition and the individual talent,’ the timelessness of great art, and a notion of poetry as both ‘communal enterprise’ and intensely personal vocation. This is an important, galvanizing book for students of poetry, for novitiates of writing, and for contemporary poets at the millennium."
—Ellen Bryant Voigt

“[In] preliterate societies, even those as late as ancient Greece and Anglo-Saxon England, the poet is the ideologue, historian, theologian, philosopher, TV, newspaper, Internet, and megamultiplex cinema rolled into one”--so begins Michael Ryan’s lively description of the cultural context of ancient poetry, in pointed contrast to that of poetry now. Informed by his own experience as a poet and writer, A Difficult Grace examines the lives and works of Dickinson, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Williams, Whitman, Frost, Bishop, and Stevens (as well as other poets and writers before and since), deftly combining literary history, critical writing by the writers themselves, and Ryan's expert understanding of their work. The result is a collection of powerfully argued essays written in a style easily accessible to a wide range of readers. Attending to the difficult graces of form, structure, rhythm, and technique, Ryan illuminates the unifying subject of his book: the vocation of the poet and the writer in the contemporary world. This is an essential book for both writers and readers.

Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft

Page count: 200 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.25


List price: $24.95

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Michael Ryan is the author of three poetry collections, including In Winter and God Hunger, and of the memoir Secret Life. His work has been honored by the Lenore Marshall Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many other awards. Ryan is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of California, Irvine.