Synthesizing Gravity is a delight, if a tart and idiosyncratic one ... There is no mystical bombast here whatsoever. Indeed, there is very nearly the opposite, delivered by a writer with a full command of the English sentence and an electric talent for metaphor ... cheeky, unpretentious excellence ... Ryan has all of a critic’s skills, but this isn’t a critic’s book. That’s not a put-down but an observation ... Synthesizing Gravity, however, is a poet’s book about poetry, and a fairly circumscribed one at that. The same figures recur. The same lines recur ... This can be frustrating, especially since Ryan is such a strong thinker and writer ... Yet if Ryan gives us a view through a keyhole, it’s a view often made richer by its constraints.
The 32 pieces in this volume balance criticism (more appropriately, appreciation—save for a mild poke at Walt Whitman) of some of Ryan's favorite poets and other literary essays with a few helpings of memoir ... In a useful introduction, the poet Christian Wiman praises Ryan's 'amiable porcupine pose,' a characteristic that's one of the most enjoyable features of the collection. For anyone who's ever attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference, Ryan's gimlet-eyed account of the 2005 event in Vancouver will be a revelation ... An eminent American poet turns to prose to illuminate her craft and her life.
The strongest bits of her book [are] at the beginning and end, where Ryan’s tongue cuts with unstoppable wit on broad subjects related to writing ... Although the writing in Synthesizing Gravity is objectively strong, Ryan’s tone and approach can often isolate. A reader likely cannot penetrate the world Ryan inhabits ... the reader feels she is standing on the fringe of a cocktail party conversation on a rarefied subject that interests her, but that she cannot quite grasp ... In a way, Ryan does not care if the reader understands or enjoys ... this work may not land with every reader ... they will not all be fond of her crotchety distaste for the writing community and obsessive love of long-gone poets ... Readers are fine to dive into Ryan’s essays without fear of not knowing everything, to be simply nodding along on the edge of the circle of partygoers and hopefully attaining something in the process. In fact, it seems to be exactly what Ryan wants.