Years ago, stuck in the rigors, both academic and otherwise, of a northeast liberal arts school, I was smack in the middle of much of the delicate world of the modern American poet, particularly that of Poet Laureate (out of the consultants and actual Laureates, 26 of the 39 are from the Northeast, from NYC north to Maine). Former Laureate, Billy Collins, enticed me originally (via my ex-roommate Matt) both of whom are fellow B.A. from my Alma Mater, Holy Cross. His quote to me (via AIM of all things) was: “…life is a loaded gun / that looks right at you with a yellow eye” aptly cribbed from Emily Dickinson.
After dabbling in Collins I was drawn naturally to his predecessor, Robert Pinsky, who was (and remains) teaching at my college sweetheart’s Boston University. At the time he was engaged in a fantastic process that I learned about (via Slate), the Favorite Poem Project. Although his own writings, take At Pleasure BayEliot but relatively “sexless” in the decidedly non-literal sense (think Pinsky is to Mozartian flute as Eliot is to on the street nighttime tenor sax)–his project had something real and meaningful to it. It involved famous authors, commonfolk and Pinsky himself reading the favorite poems selected from some 18,000 Americans. for example, were decidedly too “Etudes in Modernism” for me– the aforementioned poem reeking of the lyrical quality of
In their ways, Pinsky and Collins each brought something decidedly American to the role of Poet Laureate, Pinsky in the ultra-literal: taking his post and creating a forum promoting both poetry and patriotism in its way, and Collins in the less expansive but more interwoven: investing (and inventing) himself in the tradition of American Poets with a sense of oral tradition-like storytelling.
Since then the (rather silent) tenures of Glück, Kooser, Hall and Simic have gone untested by my eyes and work-feebled brain. It’s time I reentered the field; let’s talk about latest Laureate, Kay Ryan.