A new poet laureate was announced today. Kay Ryan’s story is humble, unpretentious and heartwarming. Here’s an excerpt from the announcement in the New York Times:

When Kay Ryan was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, the poetry club rejected her application; she was perhaps too much of a loner, she recalls…

Known for her sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes, Ms. Ryan has won a carriage full of poetry prizes for her funny and philosophical work, including awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1994, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, worth $100,000.

Still, she has remained something of an outsider.

“I so didn’t want to be a poet,” Ms. Ryan, 62, said in a phone interview from her home in Fairfax, Calif. “I came from sort of a self-contained people who didn’t believe in public exposure, and public investigation of the heart was rather repugnant to me…”

Dana Gioia, a poet and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, was an early supporter of Ms. Ryan’s work, describing her as the “thoughtful, bemused, affectionate, deeply skeptical outsider.”

“She would certainly be part of the world if she could manage it,” he said. “She has certain reservations. That is what makes her like Dickinson in some ways…”

Her father was a dreamer. She once said he could “fail at anything,” having tried selling Christmas trees, drilling oil wells and working in a chromium mine.

It was after his death, when she was 19, that she started writing poems. But Ms. Ryan said she always had mixed feelings about it. “I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to expose myself,” she said…

In 1976 she finally realized that she could not escape the poet inside her. She had decided to ride a bicycle from California to Virginia in 80 days. Riding along the Hoosier Pass in the Colorado Rockies, she said, she felt an incredible opening up, “an absence of boundaries, an absence of edges, as if my brain could do anything.”

“Finally I can ask the question: Can I be a writer?” The answer came back as a question, she said. “Do you like it?”

“So it was quite simple for me. I went home and began to work.”

Public recognition came slowly. It took 20 years for her to receive acclaim for her work. “All of us want instant success,” she said. “I’m glad I was on a sort of slow drip.”

Here are two samples of her work:

Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small —
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

***
Home To Roost

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small —
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.

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