Action creates a taste for itself.

That Will to Divest

Action creates
a taste
for itself.

Meaning: once
you’ve swept
the shelves
of spoons
and plates
you kept
for guests,
it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear
once you’re begun.


by Kay Ryan (born September, 1945)
from Say Uncle: Poems

Happy (maybe) Birthday, Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan is the sixteenth Poet Laureate of the United States, and today, September 27th, might be her birthday. Wikipedia says she was born September 21st, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac prefers September 27th and the Birthdays of Poets blog puts it a bit earlier in the month. Given that Kay laughingly says she has “fake facts” in her poems, if today is not the for-real day, perhaps she won’t mind having an extra.

I like this poem because it starts with a truism, “action creates a taste for itself,” and gently, firmly steers us in an unexpected direction. When I put the line “action creates a taste for itself” up on Twitter, it will get retweeted as a snippet of inspirational quote-of-the-day. Those who click through and read this may look twice at what happens when there is momentum. How far is too far?

…it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear
once you’re begun.

I’ve been this person, after a death or other big changes. Have you? Was the result an emptiness, or an open place?

What happens next?

In my case, I’m going back to the beginning, creating action with a taste for itself – seems like a good thing to do in early fall, before the cocooning of winter sets in. Fall is not my favorite time of the year, but it is also when I plant the bulbs that will come up in springtime.


Robert Bly chose the poem “That Will to Divest” for The Best American Poetry 1999. It was first published in The Yale Review in 1998.

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