Sep. 27, 2007

The Fabric of Life

by Kay Ryan

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Poem: "The Fabric of Life" by Kay Ryan, from Say Uncle: Poems. © Grove Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Fabric of Life

It is very stretchy.
We know that, even if
many details remain
sketchy. It is complexly
woven. That much too
has pretty well been
proven. We are loath
to continue our lessons
which consist of slaps
as sharp and dispersed
as bee stings from
a smashed nest
when any strand snaps—
hurts working far past
the locus of rupture,
attacking threads
far beyond anything
we would have said

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Kay Ryan, (books by this author) born in San Jose, California (1945), who went for a 4,000-mile cross-country bicycle trip just before her 30th birthday to take stock of her life. She was somewhere in the middle of Colorado when the rhythmic movement of pedaling got her thinking about the poetry she occasionally wrote in her spare time, and she suddenly decided to devote her life to becoming a professional poet. So she got a job teaching composition at a local college, and made sure that she would only have to teach two days a week, so she could spend all the rest of her time writing. She pared her life down to the barest essentials to live on her meager salary, and for the next couple decades, she lived that way, publishing four books of poetry, including Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends (1983) and Flamingo Watching (1994). Her books got very little attention, and she didn't go out of her way to attract any attention. She was happy to live her private simple life, writing poems.

Then someone gave a copy of one of Ryan's books to the poet and literary critic Dana Gioia, and he fell in love with it. He believed she was the best new poet he'd ever come across. He wrote the first article about her work for a literary journal, and he began including her work in literary anthologies. Within a few years, her work was appearing in The New Yorker and she went on to win several major awards. Her collection The Niagara River came out in 2005. Kay Ryan said, "I think poetry should sort of poke through your skin, shouldn't fit you quite right. I don't think that poetry should be ingested easily." She also said, "What keeps me writing is that I can only know through writing — my major sense organ is apparently a pencil."

It's the birthday of lawyer and novelist Louis Auchincloss, (books by this author) born in Lawrence, New York (1917), who grew up in one of the most prestigious families in New York City, and spent his childhood in private schools and private clubs, surrounded by debutants and servants, and went on to write about the New York City upper class in books like Portrait in Brownstone (1962), A World of Profit (1968), and Diary of a Yuppie (1987).

It's the birthday of statesman and patriot Samuel Adams, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1722), who was a failed businessman and a not-very-effective tax collector when the British passed the Sugar Act of 1764, and Adams finally found his purpose in life. He was one of the first members of the colonies to speak out against taxation without representation and one of the first people to argue for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He had a genius for agitating people. He organized riots and wrote propaganda, describing the British as murderers and slave drivers. He went on to become one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and participated in the Continental Congress. It was Samuel Adams, who said, "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."

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