Winter With the Writers Visits With Kay Ryan

February 04, 2010

Kay Ryan

Winter With the Writers, A Festival of the Literary Arts continued Jan. 28 with current U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan.

Ryan shared poems from her previously-published collections, discussed her newest book, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems to be released in March, and entertained the audience with her quick wit. 

“I think poems bear multiple readings; you have to take in so much at one time,” she said.  “Also, they’re short, and I don’t have a lot of them.”

One of the favorite moments of the evening was when Ryan read “How Birds Sing,” one of her most famous poems and one that is on permanent display at New York’s Central Park Zoo.

“I’m in love with lightness,” she said.  “And there’s no better creature to represent that than a bird.”

How Birds Sing

One is not taxed;
one need not practice;
one simply tips
the throat back
over the spine axis
and asserts the chest.
The wings and the rest
compress a musical
squeeze which floats
a series of notes
upon the breeze.

Ryan later sat down with Winter With the Writers Director Carol Frost to answer questions submitted by the audience.

Kay RyanRyan intrigued the audience with a story about how, as a child, she had a dream that a piece of paper was flying away from her.  She tried to chase it down, but she couldn’t catch it, and she knew that on it was “the most beautiful poem in the world.”

Even with an early love for poetry and writing, she confessed that she didn’t take poetry as a career seriously until she was 30, and that her poems were almost exclusively rejected for nearly 20 years.

However, when asked about the sacrifices she made to be a writer, she responded again with her disarming charm: “I haven’t had to sacrifice anything.  I never wanted to do anything, so I’m lucky it worked out this way.”

While she describes her work as an “intensely personal experience,” Ryan recommended to budding writers that “reading the greats is extremely valuable.”  “We only get better when we have some ideal we’re trying to get to.”

Ryan said she finds inspiration from many things.  When asked by an audience member “To what extent does boredom help the creative process?” Ryan replied, “People are way too frightened by boredom.  Sometimes it helps drive us to find things out.”

Ryan’s poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, The Yale Review, Paris Review, The American Scholar, The Threepenny Review, and Parnassus, among other journals and anthologies.  She was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2006.  In 2008, she was appointed the 16th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.  The Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and seeks to raise awareness of and appreciation for the reading and writing of poetry. Ryan received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UCLA and has lived in Marin County in California since 1971. 

Read about Ryan's master class, Kay Ryan Shares Insights With Student Interns.

 2010 Winter With the Writers

Rollins' 2010 Winter With the Writers, A Festival of the Literary Arts, also included novelist Andrea Barrett.

On Thursday, February 11, the series will conclude with Barry Lopez. Lopez received the National Book Award for his nonfiction book Arctic Dreams. Among his other nonfiction works are About This Life and Of Wolves and Men, which was a National Book Award finalist. He is also the author of several award-winning works of fiction, including Field Notes, Winter Count and a novella-length fable, Crow and Weasel.

Lopez’s recent work includes Light Action in the Caribbean, a collection of stories, and Resistance, a book of interrelated stories. He selected and introduced a collection of essays titled The Future of Nature, and he is the co-editor with Debra Gwartney of Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, a landmark work of language, geography and folklore. He is currently working on a new book, tentatively titled Horizon.

Events include master classes at 4 p.m. and readings, on-stage interviews and book signings at 8 p.m.  Master classes, readings and discussions are free and open to the public. Master classes will be held in the Bush Auditorium and author readings and interviews will be held in Tiedtke Concert Hall. Guests are encouraged to arrive early for the 8 p.m. readings, as seating is limited. For more information, visit the Winter With the Writers Web site at or call 407-646-2666.


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