Thursday, September 22, 2011

Poet Kay Ryan Receives 'Genius' MacArthur Award

Photo Credit: Christina Koci Hernandez
One of my favorite poets is Kay Ryan.  Born in California in 1945 and acknowledged as one of the most original voices in the contemporary landscape, Kay Ryan is the author of several books of poetry, including Flamingo Watching (2006), The Niagara River (2005), and Say Uncle (2000). Her book The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (2010) won the Pulizer Prize for Poetry.

Ryan's tightly compressed, rhythmically dense poetry is often compared to that of Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore; however, Ryan’s often barbed wit and unique facility with “recombinant” rhyme has earned her the status of one of the great living American poets, and led to her appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate in 2008. She held the position for two terms, using the appointment to champion community colleges like the one in Marin County, California where she and her partner Carol Adair taught for over thirty years. In an interview with the Washington City Paper at the end of tenure, Ryan called herself a “whistle-blower” who “advocated for much underpraised and underfunded community colleges across the nation.”

Kay Ryan is the recipient of several major awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She has received the Union League Poetry Prize and the Maurice English Poetry Award, as well as the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Since 2006 she has served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

And now she joins the ranks of The MacArthur Award recipients.  You can read about the other recipients in The New York Times article.  "The MacArthur award, which has been bestowed on 850 people since the program began in 1981, comes in five annual payments of $100,000, with no strings attached.

Kay Ryan, 65, a former poet laureate of the United States who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry this year, said the money provided a certain “mental ease,” as she continues to write and to advocate for community colleges, where she has taught remedial English skills for decades. 

Robert Gallucci, the president of the MacArthur Foundation, said many factors are considered when choosing fellows. The secretive selection process relies on hundreds of anonymous nominators to help identify potential honorees.  “Fellows are selected for their creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future,” Mr. Gallucci said. "

From her collection Say Uncle, one of my favorite poems is the first in the collection:

Say Uncle

Every day
you say,
Just one
more try.

Then another
day slips by.

You will
  say ankle,
you will
  say knuckle;

why won’t
you why
won’t you
say uncle.

Have you read any Kay Ryan?  Do you read poetry?  What poet are you reading right now?  Who is one of your must read poets?  Comment below or email me

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