Ryans Poetry of Minds Joy Initiative Brings Her to Appreciative CSM Audience
To a standing-room-only crowd gathered April 2 as part of the College of Southern Marylands Connections Literary Series, U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan offered the back-stories, epigraphs and inspirations from her collection of poetry, and commended the work of community colleges to an audience who unanimously nodded in agreement.
Ryan was introduced by CSMs Literature Professor Neal Dwyer, who said that a student once asked What makes a really good poet?
Maybe the same traits that make someone a really good person, said Dwyer. Traits like patience, dedication, curiosity, a belief in ones self, attention to detail, the love of life and a sense of humor. As soon as you meet Kay Ryan you know that she has these qualities. She could have easily lived a quiet life in Northern California and never written a single line. Instead she rode her bike on a 4,000-mile trip and poetry found her. Thirty years later, shes the countrys leading poet and were all the better for it.
Im a complete believer in community colleges and we are underappreciated, Ryan said. We dont get a lot of respect. We dont get great funding.
Ryan described how she graduated from a little community college, not as nice as this one, for sure, adding that When I went away to UCLAwhich I could not wait to do, to get away from a little podunk community collegeI thought I would be rubbing shoulders with Nobel Prize winners and all sorts of elevated scholars. Well, I had a lot of [teacher assistants]. I had a lot of classes that had 300 students. I transferred as a junior and I was completely alienated. I survived and I got my degree, but I came to understand that I had a much richer, more intimate educational experience at my little community college, which by the way had 800 students. And I had an English teacher by the name of Miss Foley who truly inflamed my love of poetry.
I like to say that [community colleges] get the wild cards; we get the surprises. You dont know whos going to be in community college. We take a chance on everyone and it pays off, she said.
Ryan read from The Jam Jar Lifeboat & Other Novelties Exposed, a collection of poems inspired by Ripleys Believe It Or Not! as well as pieces from her new book The Best of It: New and Selected Poems.
Bethany Yellets, 16, of Lexington Park attended the reading for extra credit for her English 1020 taught by CSM Professor Wayne Karlin, one of the Connections organizers, but she didnt need much of an incentive. A full-time student at CSM preparing to enter the colleges nursing program, Yellets read and liked The Turtle, which Ryan expounded on for her guests. The Turtle, is almost silly, said Yellets. The timing is fascinatingit is silly but it is deep.
Of Ryans visit to CSM Yellets said, It is awesome that she is travelling around the country to community colleges rather than big state universities. It is a great project.
The project Yellets spoke of was Ryans Poetry of the Minds Joy Initiative she began in her final year as poet laureate. Ryan also created Community College Poetry Day to draw attention to the role of poetry in community colleges and to the central, yet largely unacknowledged, role community colleges play in the life of our nation, said Dwyer.
CSMs literary magazine, Connections, and the Connections Series of literary lectures were developed in 1990. So often you hear about a program and it goes for several years and then it dies. But this is a program that continues to mature and continues to bring outstanding artists to this college. said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried.
The next Connections event will be a reading of selections by contributors to the Spring 2010 Connections Literary Magazine. The magazine is a regional journal published twice a year that features poetry, short stories, artwork and photography of Southern Maryland. The reading will begin at 7:30 p.m., April 30 at the La Plata Campus, Learning Resources Building, Room LR-102. For information, visit www.csmd.edu/Connections.