Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Kay Ryan’s Deceptively Simple Nature—National Poetry Month 2022

Kay Ryan.

Former Library of Congress Poet Laureate Kay Ryan has spent much of her successful career writing deceptively simple verse about nature and especially animalsshort pieces that trip the reader and redirect expectations.  Her work echoes that of her youthful inspiration, Marianne Moore.

Ryan was born on September 21, 1945 in San Jose, California and was raised in several areas of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert.  After attending Antelope Valley College, she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  Since 1971, she has lived in Marin County and has taught English part-time at the College of Marin in Kentfield. Where her life partner Carol Adair also was an instructor at the College of Marin.  The couple lived together from 1978 until Adair’s death in 2009.

Ryan has published several collections of poetry, including Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends in 1983; Strangely Marked Metal in 1985 ; Flamingo Watching (1994), which was a finalist for both the Lamont Poetry Selection and the Lenore Marshall Prize; Elephant Rocks in 1996; Say Uncle in 2000; The Niagara River in2005; and The Best of It: New and Selected Poems published by Grove Press in 2010, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2011.

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 named to the “It List” by Entertainment Weekly and one of her poems has been permanently installed at New York’s Central Park Zoo. Ryan was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. In 2008 she was appointed the sixteenth Poet Laureate and re-appointed the next year.

Her other honors include a National Humanities Medal, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Union League Poetry Prize, the Maurice English Poetry Award, and three Pushcart Prizes. Her work has been selected four times for The Best American Poetry and was included in The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997.

Discus fish with fry.

Don’t Look Back

This is not

a problem

for the neckless.

Fish cannot


swivel their heads

to check

on their fry;

no one expects

this. They are

torpedoes of


compact capsules

that rely

on the odds

for survival,

unfollowed by

the exact and modest

number of goslings

the S-necked

goose is—

who if she

looks back

acknowledges losses

and if she does not

also loses.


Kay Ryan


The Niagara River


As though

the river were

a floor, we position

our table and chairs

upon it, eat, and

have conversation.

As it moves along,

we notice—as

calmly as though

dining room paintings

were being replaced—

the changing scenes

along the shore. We

do know, we do

know this is the

Niagara River, but

it is hard to remember

what that means.


Kay Ryan


Home to Roost


The chickens

are circling and

blotting out the

day. The sun is

bright, but the

chickens are in

the way. Yes,

the sky is dark

with chickens,

dense with them.

They turn and

then they turn

again. These

are the chickens

you let loose

one at a time

and small—

various breeds.

Now they have

come home

to roost—all

the same kind

at the same speed.


Kay Ryan


Sharks’s Teeth


Everything contains some silence.

Noise gets its zest from the small

Shark’s-tooth- shaped fragments

of rest angled in it. An hour of city

holds maybe a minute of these

remnants of a time when silence

reigned, compact and dangerous

as a shark. Sometimes a bit of

a tail or fin can still be sensed in parks.


Kay Ryan


Flamingo Watching


Wherever the flamingo goes,  

she brings a city’s worth

of furbelows. She seems

unnatural by nature—

too vivid and peculiar

a structure to be pretty,

and flexible to the point  

of oddity. Perched on

those legs, anything she does  

seems like an act. Descending  

on her egg or draping her head  

along her back, she’s

too exact and sinuous

to convince an audience

she’s serious. The natural elect,  

they think, would be less pink,  

less able to relax their necks,  

less flamboyant in general.

They privately expect that it’s some  

poorly jointed bland grey animal  

with mitts for hands

whom God protects.


Kay Ryan



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