Last weekend, I heard Ryan's talk on craft during the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. One of my buddies called Ryan, "charming." And she was -- genuinely pleased when someone asked her to read a poem that she herself enjoys.
She was also insightful about the writing process. Ryan compared her use of sound to a certain teething toy -- one that my daughter loved as a baby. It looks like a molecule, with wooden beads that slide along taut elastic strings, connected by wooden rods.
Ryan said that using narrow poetic lines helps those sounds bounce around. Because the first and last word of any poetic line have maximum exposure, Ryan'sskinny poems can feel, "almost all exposed." Interesting thought.
One of my favorite poems from the reading was, "He Lit a Fire with Icicles." It describes one of the miracles of St. Sebolt.
Saint Laura was scalded to death in a vat of lead. Ugh.
He Lit a Fire with Icicles
For W.G. Sebald, 1944-2001
This was the work
of St. Sebolt, one
of his miracles:
he lit a fire with
icicles. He struck
them like a steel
to flint, did St.
only at a certain
body heat. How
cold he had
to get to learn
that ice wouldburn.
Read the rest of the poem here.
During the reading, Ryan said that she sat with this poem for a long time. She got stuck on the idea, "he had to ... learn that ice would burn." The poem didn't resolve for her until it found its feet -- an unexpected, but inevitable, and lovingly human, resolution.
Enjoy the rest of your Poetry Friday! You'll find more poetry posts at Liz Scanlon's blog, Liz in Ink.
I love the teething toy image, and how sounds bonded to other sounds create bounciness in a poem. True!
I agree with Toby -- what an original comparison!
Great poem, too. Maybe I'll write about Saint Joan. Or Saint Francis.
If you ever have a chance to hear her speak, go!
T -- I'm still thinking about Saint Laura being boiled in lead. I have to find out more of her story.
Hi Laura! I'm glad you were able to take better notes than me--I loved, loved, loved hearing Ryan speak. (I wrote about her this week, too!)
I completely forgot that we were going to make contact at the Festival. What hotel did you stay in? At the very least we could have walked to the festival together.
I'm a member of the Kay Ryan Fan Club, too! My favorite is her poem Turtle.
In this audio (with Garrison Keillor and Billy Collins -- a trifecta if there ever was one)
she reads Turtle, and at the 3:15 point, she proclaims that one of the rhymes in this poem is the best she's ever written. Her delight in words and sounds is so clear in her voice!
Thanks for a Kay Ryan moment on a soggy Friday!
Hi, Diane. I'm so sorry! I forgot too. That was a crazy week. I was there Friday and Saturday, stayed with a dear friend and had a wonderful time.
I'll check out your post. My other favorites were Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar. Did you hear Mark Strand's talk -- also great!
I went once to the Dodge Festival years ago and STILL relish it. The Kay Ryan talk sounds just lovely...
Lucky you getting to see Kay!
I love the crisp words in this poem. So lean, but it crackles with meaning.
Diane Lockward also blogged about the Dodge Poetry Festival:
Mary Lee -- "Turtle" was my introduction to Kay Ryan. It's more autobiographical (and narrative)than most of the poems I've read by her. Great poem, and timely considering the current news about GLBT kids.
Thanks, Jama. I'm going to check out Diane's post.
So many poets are new to me (and I'm so horrible about remembering their names.) It helps when I can attach a specific poem to them.
For some reason this makes me think of the Robert Frost poem Fire and Ice (which appealed to my teenage suffering self.)
I now have an image of a man with icicles in his hand, striking at them like flint.
Oh now I'm going to have to go check out Turtle too!
The teething toy comparison is so cool. I would never have thought of describing sound that way... She's a poet through and through.
Thanks for the recap with well-chosen bits about process. Saints seem to lend themselves to spare and amazing poems like these.
This is a brilliant post. Thanks for sharing it. I am so jealous; I'd love to hear a great poet like Ms. Ryan speak and read. The poem of hers you shared was a home run. Not sure if I have time to work on your prompt, but good luck with your response to it!
Thanks for the feedback. Sharing is part of the fun of going to Dodge. I love hearing everyone's different takes on the readings, or learning about a great poet I didn't have a chance to see.
That poem was my entree to Ryan also, whom I posted about back in June. She should be hugely more famous than she is, don't we all think? (Would that spoil her? Somehow I don't think so.)
I once went to Dodge long ago--I'm putting the next one on my calendar NOW! Let's all rent a house.
Heidi, how much fun would that be? Great idea!
You're right about the fame. Most U.S. PLs are very famous. Maybe it's Ryan's quiet, down to earth persona that makes her feel more real. Reminds me of Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, "Famous."
I love the depth of impact in those short poems. How long she had to sit with it to gather that great insight. I would not have thought about St. Sebolt needing to get cold enough to learn how to start a fire with icicles, if not for this poem. What a gift!
I am relatively new to her work and need to get more of it. I love the one collection I have. What a fabulous poem you shared--thanks! And thanks for sharing some of her thoughts/notes on writing.
And as a fellow Laura, I too say "yikes." I do not wish to be a saint, esp one scalded to death.
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