Kay Ryan came into office as an “unlikely” poet laureate, she has said, living a quiet life in California, working away on her refined, compact verse. Now in her second term as the 16th U.S. poet laureate, she has decided on a project to share with the nation.
On Wednesday night in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, Ryan gave a reading of her work and announced a program designed to highlight poetry and poets at community colleges across the country. “I know great,” Ryan said. “I do not know where great comes from.”
This is a very personal project for Ryan, who will publish a new collection in March called “The Best of It.” She attended community college at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif., and, until recently, taught remedial English for more than 30 years at community colleges around her home in Marin County.
The project is also a tribute to her longtime partner, Carol Adair, who died earlier this year from cancer and was a dedicated art teacher at community colleges. “She was obsessed with freeing people, being an agent of freedom,” Ryan said. Once for recognition as teacher of the year, Adair received a whistle as an award. Ryan triumphantly blew that whistle Wednesday night to mark the start of the program.
The Community College Poetry Project is made up of three parts. National Poetry Day on Community College Campuses will be celebrated on the first day of April beginning next year and will include events, readings, and a conference call with Ryan. A Web page, “Poetry for the Mind’s Joy,” will launch early next year hosted by the Library of Congress’ site. Lastly, colleges will submit their best work each year to feature on the site.
“I always think writers will come from the most unlikely sources,” Ryan said in an interview. “Maybe that is because I was educated in a community college, I didn’t look a bit promising and I got to be poet laureate of the United States.”
Listen to the interview with Ryan: