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March 29, 2004 Poets House, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

In 1946, Michael Ryan was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He received a BA from the University of Notre Dame, an MA from Claremont Graduate University, and both an MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa. While studying at Iowa, he was the Poetry Editor of The Iowa Review.

Ryan's poetry manuscript, Threats Instead of Trees (1974), was selected by Stanley Kunitz for the Yale Series of Younger Poets and was a finalist that year for the National Book Award. His second collection of poems, In Winter (1981), was a National Poetry Series selection. Since then, Ryan has published two other collections of poetry, God Hunger (1989), which received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), which received the 2005 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

About Ryan's work, the critic William H. Pritchard said in The Nation: "Unlike too many poets who tumble into print at the first twitch of feeling, Ryan takes time to listen to himself, and such listening contributes immeasurably to the subtlety of his address to the reader. [He] reminds us on every page that poems can be about lives, and about them in ways most urgent and delicate."

Ryan is also the author of an autobiography, Secret Life (Pantheon Books, 1995), which was highly acclaimed and became a New York Times Notable Book. He has also written a memoir, Baby B (Graywolf Press, 2004), excerpted in The New Yorker, and a collection of essays about poetry and writing, A Difficult Grace (University of Georgia Press, 2000).

"Ryan shows himself to be a superior formalist—" the poet David Baker said in The Kenyon Review, "that is, subtle, effective, various—for whom formality is less a quality to flaunt than a necessary means of articulation and control, whose best work is severe and taut, and whose gift is to be able to turn the apparently personal into the public and important."

Ryan's honors include a Whiting Writers Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He has taught writing at the University of Iowa, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program, and the University of California, Irvine, where he has been a Professor of English and Creative Writing since 1990.

He currently lives in California with his wife, Doreen Gildroy, and their daughter, Emily.

Outside

Michael Ryan
The dead thing mashed into the street
the crows are squabbling over isn't
her, nor are their raucous squawks
the quiet cawing from her throat
those final hours she couldn't speak.
But the racket irks him.
It seems a cruel intrusion into grief
so mute it will never be expressed
no matter how loud or long the wailing
he might do. Nor could there be a word
that won't debase it, no matter
how kind or who it comes from.
She knew how much he loved her.
That must be his consolation
when he must talk to buy necessities.
Every place will be a place without her.
What people will see when they see him
pushing a shopping cart or fetching mail
is just a neatly dressed polite old man. 

From New and Selected Poems by Michael Ryan. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Ryan. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

From New and Selected Poems by Michael Ryan. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Ryan. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan

Born in 1946, the poet Michael Ryan's works have been selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award

by this poet

poem
Torment by appetite
is itself an appetite
dulled by inarticulate,
dogged, daily

loving-others-to-death—
as Chekhov put it, "compassion
down to your fingertips"—
looking on them as into the sun

not in the least for their sake
but slowly for your own
because it causes
the blinded soul to bloom

like
poem
My sick heart and my sick soul
I'd gladly fasten in a bag
and drop into an ocean-hole
to float in darkness as a rag.

Would it learn to make its light?
Maybe in a million years.
A million years of constant night
in which it can't stop its fears

flaring their nightmare tentacles
and bioluminescent eyes
as cold
poem
The rich little kids across the street
twist their swings in knots. Near me,
on the porch, wasps jazz old nesting tunes
and don't get wild over human sweat.
This is the first summer of my middle life.
I ought to be content. The mindless harsh
process of history; with its diverse murders
and starvations, its