Though Kay Ryan is the author of seven books of poetry as well as a new and selected collection,
The Best of It (Grove Press), and served as the 16th United States poet laureate (2008–2010), she was known as a poetry outsider until well into her career, which she has spent writing poetry and teaching remedial English part-time at the College of Marin at Kentfield, a community college near her home in Marin County, California. Ryan, who appears as part of the Lannan Foundation’s Readings & Conversations series with the poet Asturo Riley, eschews the first person for a more distanced perspective on her subject matter, enjambing her lines to create rough edges and shove the reader through the poem. She writes deceptively simple, tiny little poems about a diverse range of topics that rely on what she calls recombinant rhyme for their style, a kind of rhyme that appears within the lines rather than in a formal structure at the ends of lines. In a Winter 2008 interview in The Paris Review, Ryan compared recombinant rhyme to adding “a snip of the jellyfish’s glow-in-the-dark gene to bunnies and mak[ing] them glow green; by snipping up pieces of sound and redistributing them throughout a poem I found I could get the poem to go a little bit luminescent.” Ryan has received numerous awards for her work, including a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for The Best of It. Ryan was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006, and in 2009 she launched Poetry for the Mind’s Joy, an initiative to draw national attention to poetry written at community colleges.
The Lannan event takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St.). Tickets are $7, $4 for students and seniors, and are available by calling 988-1234 or visiting www.ticketssantafe.org. The conversation is broadcast at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17, on KSFR-FM 101.1.