Introduction to the Kay Ryan Folio

For those of us who love literature, it’s a treat to read an interview with a writer we’ve long admired. A good literary interview allows us to see far more than the writer’s engagement with the page. We’re able to hear her intentions and frustrations, her sense of herself within the historical conversation that is literature. We’re made aware of what writer herself does not know about her work—what she will and will not answer, what she can and cannot answer. We get a sense of the writer’s personality and why she writes.

This interview conducted by Jane Collins with current U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan shows an interviewer engaged with Ryan’s work and willing to ask the kinds of questions that both poets and new readers of poetry will find helpful when they read a Kay Ryan poem. We learn why Ryan uses very short lines, why denying a rhythm at times is pleasing to her, and how rhyme comes into her poems. Ryan speaks at length about why she avoids the “I” in her work, and the counterintuitive effects of “chilling” her material. Finally, she suggests that new writers “protect the thing that doesn’t match the world,” something she has learned to do quite well, even as she’s given us decades of poetry.

We’ve included six previously published poems in this folio. From the early “Marianne Moore Announces Lunch” to among her most recent, readers can see how Ryan’s work has both shifted and held fast to her obsessions and worldview.

The Editors
January 2010