April 14, 2011, by Andrew Kozma
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kay Ryan’s reading last night. I’ve been immersing myself in her poetry for over a month, so I felt that I had a good handle on the way her poetic mind works, but that’s a far cry from the way a person presents herself onstage. And that’s not even to approach the dire fact that great poets can be horrible, utterly disastrous readers of their own poetry.
Poets are not actors, after all.
But, if you’re lucky, a poet can be personable and completely charming, and so on the ball that each poem is surrounded by laughter even though – as you know, if you’ve been reading these blogs – the poems themselves are darkling meditations on life and thought and the pitfalls of human interaction.
One of the points that Kay Ryan stressed throughout the reading is that poems that other people have responded to as depressing – such as “Crustacean Island” and its depiction of a human-less land – Ryan actually finds hopeful, or peaceful, or beautiful. And on stage she may say that she’s somewhat misanthropic, but her personality belies her statement. She delights in play and willful misinterpretation, and those qualities can only be fully expressed in the presence of others.
It’s that sense of play mixed with her utter seriousness with regards to the art of poetry that allows Ryan to take chances with her reading that would derail another poet. How else does she get away with interrupting her own poems repeatedly without harming the integrity of the poem?
There are two things I’ll take away from that night.
The first is Ryan’s quip about the importance of the art vs. the importance of the artist. That if she and her book were on a life raft and another Kay Ryan was helming the rescue craft (admittedly, we’re clearly into the world of Ryan’s own poetry here) that was only big enough to save either Ryan or her book, she’d save her book.
The second thing is just this quote about poetry, what it does and what it is. “It is a roomier place that words create. It is another kingdom.”
Luckily, you have the key to that kingdom before you. All you have to do is open the cover and read.
I would just like to comment on the part about poets being “horrible, utterly disastrous readers of their own poetry.” I don’t think that is possible. It is their poetry. How can it be said that they read it wrong when they are the ones that wrote it? Granted their reading may not match how the audience/reader interpreted it, but that doesn’t make it “horrible”, only different.