“Sharks’ Teeth,” by Kay Ryan

At the University of Dallas Rome campus at Due Santi, with Collegium Cantorum. Very lucky to have Internet, some very bad news has come my way, and I do ask for your prayers – it is a personal matter. It is awesome and gorgeous out here in the Italian countryside, the food is excellent, I’m trying to enjoy myself. I will try to get a post in tomorrow – hopefully we will be singing quite a bit today.

Thanks to Ario for introducing me to this poem: original here.

Sharks’ Teeth
Kay Ryan

Everything contains some
silence. Noise gets
its zest from the
small shark’s-tooth
shaped fragments
of rest angled
in it. An hour
of city holds maybe
a minute of these
remnants of a time
when silence reigned,
compact and dangerous
as a shark. Sometimes
a bit of a tail
or fin can still
be sensed in parks.


“Everything contains some silence” is a proposition the speaker immediately challenges and resolves. How does “noise” contain silence? She puts this forth and argues that “rest” in the noise creates the “zest,” the very life of noise. Such rest comes in “shark-tooth shaped fragments:” each “rest” is a sudden ascent followed by a sudden descent, with an edge. In the airport and on the plane ride, while explaining this poem to two separate people, I used the image of watching live gunfire between soldiers and terrorists on television. The silence is the most awful thing, the anticipation of horror.

The speaker changes from “fragments of rest” to “remnants of a time” – “remnants” aren’t quite fragments, there may be a whole that remains after all, but it has left us. Those remnants, as well as the time itself, were/was “compact and dangerous” as a shark. There are at least two possibilities for this previous time: the meditative culture of the Middle Ages, perhaps, or a return to nature ala the “noble savage” (h/t Tony Janeiro). I’m sure we can think of more, but notice the movement of the object “compact and dangerous” – we look for the tail (end) or the fin (middle), and at parks, presumably, we are at the point of origin.


  1. I find it interesting that the poet equates silence with a killing machine. The metaphor is apropos I believe because the shark moves silently in for the kill without wondering muchly about its prey. Yet, to equate silence with something dangerous–why do we fear it so much?

    Have you seen the movie The Piano? The ending contains an interesting essay on silence.

  2. This is like what makes much of life worthwhile, ups and downs. Like, y’know?? =P

    Speech isn’t really discernable without rests, at least no sort I’m familiar with. Music would be torture without starts and stops. Had there been no silence to fill, who would have made it in the first place? But good times are boring without bad, I can see that
    “Noise gets
    its zest from the
    small shark’s-tooth
    shaped fragments
    of rest angled
    in it.”
    There’s something on my fingertips, but I just can’t quite find the words for it… it has to do with monotony and how the opposite of monotony can be so wonderful even if it’s horrible. =/

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