Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kay Ryan, emblems, NER

It was funny, but I was about to look at the gender breakdown at NER randomly (I'm a subscriber, so have various issues lying about the house) as a result of my Poetry Daily rough statistics--and C.Dale Young posted the stats for this year on his blog on Monday.  He says:

"For poetry submissions at NER, we get about 60% men and 40% women. That said, if you examine a volume of four issues, the breakdown for a year of published poems is pretty darned close to 50-50. Also, interestingly enough, women seem more likely to publish more than one poem in an issue of NER vs. their male counterparts. So, the women must be better poets. Or the better ones send to NER. Who knows?"

That had been my guess--I've been introduced to a number of female poets whose work I really admire through NER, or seen them rise through the ranks to publish in NER.  And on his blog, C. Dale praises work by both men and women on a regular basis.  I've met him a handful of times, but don't know him really at all--but I'd say, based on my long-time subscriber status that it's less that he would try to be 50/50 and more that he reads without gender bias.  That is, if it makes sense, he reads without the typical prejudices we all bring to bear.  Interesting.

I went to Kay Ryan's Folger Library reading last night.  It was a lot of fun.  I have, of course, seen her work everywhere over the last few years, but I hadn't really gotten a handle on her at all.  When I was studying for my MFA, I was for the most part reading things that seemed applicable to what I wanted to do--and I guess I'd look at what she was doing and think, maybe not.  

Anyway, I have a friend who sits on the Folger Poetry Board, and she was kind enough to invite me in for the board's hour or so discussion with the poet prior to the reading.  Kay Ryan was hysterically funny.  I liked her immediately as a person.  There was a good discussion about her work being like small allegories (that was Dana Gioia's take--he was there, so of course I did not participate in the discussion, being a bit too intimidated).  Conceits was also bandied about--although I was thinking her poems are more like emblems.  In the Renaissance, there were books and books filled with woodcuts/prints of emblems, which were these mis-en-scenes showing and elaborating upon an image common from mythology, folklore, sciences, commonplace symbols.  There was usually one central image, and then other images that built a scene and explained the central image.  This was typically accompanied by a short poem that provided a further gloss in verse.  I mentioned that, safely later, to a friend.

But Ms. Ryan always seems so dour in interviews and photos that I failed completely to see how much fun her poetry is, how much fun she's having with it and with the structures she builds from rhyme and image.  But she was so immensely great and cool and wonderful.  I loved her.

She talked, too, about how much she liked teaching composition at a community college, with which I could completely identify.  My favorite students at Columbia were those in the remedial writing segment.  They really cared about their prose and really tried and really accomplished things.  I loved them, too.

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