Small Demon
Jul 252008

Just wanted to note that Kay Ryan has been on my radar for quite a while, though I’d known none of the details now coming out about her life now that she has been named poet laureate. As someone who teaches Freshman English every fall, I was particularly impressed by the fact that Ryan teaches basic writing at a community college:

“It was mainly second-language students and students who lost their way in school,” Ryan says. “They wanted something that I could help them get: an understanding of the basic elements of grammar, pronouns, those pesky apostrophes. The goal was to write an effective paragraph that was coherent and well supported. We aspired to the semicolon, but that rarely happened.”

This, too, struck a chord with me:

But the stress of becoming America’s ambassador of poetry is already keeping her up at night. “I just lie in bed rigidly,” she says, “and I think about how I have moved from a condition where the world can humiliate me to one where I can humiliate myself. And let down other poets.”

The sentiment is consistent with the attitude expressed in this journal Ryan wrote while attending her first AWP conference. Unlike Ryan, I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying to fit in at AWP (I was even on the board) & elsewhere before giving it up as damaging. (Though much of the damage was self-inflicted, only aided & abetted by the culture industry.) Anyway, I’m glad to have a poet like Ryan as the laureate. I must say in closing that I appreciated Mark Strand’s remark on the laureateship — after having read about the non-poetic demands of the job as recounted by recent honorees Charles Simic & Billy Collins, it was refreshing to read, “For others, though, the sudden celebrity is an upside. Mark Strand, who served from 1990 to 1991, says that hobnobbing at cocktail and dinner parties was his favorite part of the job.”

[See also this note (with two short poems) from 3 Quarks Daily.]

May 132008

Funny how dreams lag behind events. Folk wisdom says that dreams predict the future, but my experience is that they predict the past. Over the last couple of nights I have dreamed, just before waking, about crappy things my colleagues have done to me. The events in the dreams are fictional, but related to things that have actually happened to me. The dreams allowed me to be outraged — in one I punched a former dean in the nose. The best part was that I punched him in the nose after telling him I was going to punch him in the nose. In the other dream I was slighted by another administrator & I gave him a thorough (& public) tongue-lashing. Very satisfying. The weird thing is that I’ve been feeling fairly good about my teaching life lately, though a couple of months ago I went through a period of resentment. Each dream worked like a little poem: specific details carrying a strong emotion. Also, a process of encapsulation: giving the feeling a form results in an ability to control the emotion. There is another sort of dream (& another sort of poem) that break open new realms of feeling & those are much more dangerous & more beautiful.