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Poet Kay Ryan: A profile

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As the friends pedaled through Colorado, the repetitive, rhythmic exercise gave Ryan a sense of oneness with her surroundings, as if "I could pass through the pine trees and they through me." She suddenly felt as if she "knew everything," she says. "I wasn't bound by the ordinary structures of ego."

In that moment of heightened awareness, Ryan, who is not religious, asked the universe whether she should be a writer.

The answer she got was clear and surprising: "Do you like it?"

Yes, she realized, she liked writing better than anything else.

Since then, Ryan has fashioned a life conducive to poetry, one in which the essential elements of that bike trip - repetition, expansiveness, and large intellectual leaps - shape both her daily routine and her voice as a writer.

Practically speaking, that means a lifestyle with few obligations. Thus, she has taught the same subject - remedial English - at College of Marin in Kentfield, Calif., for the past 33 years. She limits her classes to Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

"I've tried to live very quietly, so I could be happy," she says, explaining that the simpler her routine, the more complex her thinking can be. Her poems function much the same way, with deep currents underlying a simple-looking surface, as in "Hope" from the collection "Elephant Rocks":

What's the use
of something
as unstable
and diffuse as hope -
the almost-twin
of making-do,
the isotope
of going on:
what isn't in
the envelope
just before
it isn't:
the always tabled
righting of the present.

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