"[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.