11/06/2012 10:21 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

Kay Ryan Asks Us to Inhabit Her Country

Kay Ryan writes in "Home to Roost,"

............ Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens..."

It's a poem that always haunts me, partly because when I moved to California in 1987, the
first thing I did, as soon as I'd secured a boyfriend and a place to live, was to buy up some
baby chicks and start raising chickens. I have lived in five different houses in the 25 years I've been here, and there have always been chickens, tomatoes, cilantro and fresh
eggs. I like the poem because of the speed and curve of it. I like it because the chickens
turn and return. I like it because the day is bright and then darkened with chickens. I like
the bright and the dark because that's California for me, the bright thick air and
the dense dark against it. The bright expectations we hold when we come here, and the
thick strands of dark hair and air that fill our pockets, fill the void, fill the expanses of light
around us, tendrils of darkness, winding their way into our consciousness until we start to
believe there is no way out and up.

We will always be tangled in the lines of the freeway, the mess of multiple jobs and debts,
that there will never be a way to stay home, to lie in the hammock, to listen to those
chickens which are right now in my back yard and have so little to do and even less to think
about if chickens think, which frankly, I doubt.

Kay Ryan is considered a god in the poetry world. She's won countless prizes, is Chancellor
of the Academy of American Poets and she's been poet laureate. But, until she was nearly
50, hardly anyone in the poetry world knew her work. She lived in Marin County with her
partner Carol and worked carefully and steadily. She talks about how Carol sent out her
work while Kay kept writing. She's an inspiration to all the poets out there who think if
they haven't made it by thirty like Dana Goodyear, the Dickman brothers -- Matthew and
Michael or the Zapruder brothers -- Matthew and Michael, they're nobody. They're lost; it's
too late. They're condemned to the purgatory of the poetry world -- small coffee shops and
bars. A few literary magazines no one's heard of. The outskirts of the AWP Conference. (Associated Writing Program, the next conference is March 2013, Boston.)

Kay Ryan kept writing. She writes the kind of poetry we started Red Hen to publish. You
feel you could read many of her poems to your hair dresser or your mailman and get that,
"Aha," moment, that moment when you've inhabited another world, but you want to keep
reading the poem again and again, (and she often re-reads her poems letting you savor the
words again like morsels) you want to taste the poem and get to the other layers you might
have missed. You want to inhabit this new country fully and touch all the inhabitants
there, see what they're wearing, watch how they fill how their glasses.

Kay Ryan is reading on November 11th, 2012 at the Westin in Pasadena with Dana Gioia and Jane Smiley.

You can read the whole poem at the Poetry Foundation website.