In her poems Kay Ryan enjoys re-examining the beauty of everyday phrases and mining the cracks in common human experience. Unlike many poets writing today, she seldom writes in the first person. She has said, “I don’t use ‘I’ because the personal is too hot and sticky for me to work with. I like the cooling properties of the impersonal.” In her above poem “Hide and Seek,” for instance, she describes the feelings of the person hiding without ever saying, “I am hiding.”
Ryan’s poems are characterized by the deft use of unusual kinds of slant and internal rhyming–which she has referred to as “recombinant rhyme”–in combination with strong, exact rhymes and even puns. The poems are peppered with wit and philosophical questioning and rely on short lines, often no more than two to three words each. She has said of her ascetic preferences, “An almost empty suitcase–that’s what I want my poems to be. A few things. The reader starts taking them out, but they keep multiplying.” Because her craft is both exacting and playfully elastic, it is possible for both readers who like formal poems and readers who like free verse to find her work rewarding.
For these reasons, she has been chosen as the Library’s 16th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2008-2009. Ryan will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary series Oct. 16 with a reading of her work. She also will be a featured guest at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in the Poetry pavilion Sept. 27 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Ryan also talks about her appointment and poetry in this book festival podcast.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who made the appointment, said that the Laureateship is uniformly awarded for the highest quality of poetry. “Kay Ryan is a distinctive and original voice within the rich variety of contemporary American poetry, She writes easily understandable short poems on improbable subjects. Within her compact compositions there are many surprises in rhyme and rhythm and in sly wit pointing to subtle wisdom.”
Ryan succeeds Charles Simic as Poet Laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.