Emily Dickinson Museum Announces the “Tell it Slant” Award and Names Poet Kay Ryan Inaugural Recipient

Kay Ryan, recipient of the 2012 "Tell it Slant" Award
Kay Ryan, recipient of the 2012 "Tell it Slant" Award

November 1, 2012 
Contact: Jane Wald, Executive Director, 413-542-2154 
For immediate release 

AMHERST, Mass— Kay Ryan, U.S. Poet Laureate 2008-2010, will be the first of an award created by the Emily Dickinson Museum to honor individuals whose life work is imbued with the creative spirit of the Amherst poet. Ryan will receive the award December 6 as part of the Museum’s annual celebration of Dickinson’s birthday

Not unlike Dickinson, Kay Ryan has lived largely outside the poetry world, pursuing her writing while teaching part-time at the College of Marin in the San Francisco area.  She published her first book of poetry Strangely Marked Metal, in 1985 at the age of forty, yet her work was little noticed until the 1990s when national journals called attention to her anthologized poems. She went on to receive both the coveted Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship in the same year (2004) and was named Poet Laureate of the United States four years later. Her sixth book, The Niagra River, was published in 2005.

Ryan’s style has often been compared to Dickinson’s for originality and knotted syntax. Her poems powerfully convey observations about the natural world, pain and suffering, ecstasy and contentment, and the nature of mortality and immortality. Ryan’s poems are likewise compact and sharp, with an uncluttered wry amusement that belies their density of meaning. Poetry magazine notes that her “barbed wit and unique facility with ’recombinant’ rhyme has earned her the status of one of the great living American poets.” Ryan herself explains that her poems develop “the way an oyster does, with an aggravation.”

The “Tell it Slant” Award was created in 2012 by the Museum’s Board of Governors, which itself selects the awardee. The name of the award is taken from a well-known Dickinson poem: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -- / Success in Circuit lies / Too bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth's superb surprise.”

“We’re thrilled that Kay Ryan is the inaugural recipient of this new award acknowledging the creative importance of ‘looking slant’ at life, says Gigi Bradford, Chair of the Folger Library Poetry Board and a member of the Dickinson Museum’s Board of Governors. The best poetry helps us to see and understand in new ways, and both Dickinson and Ryan enable readers to connect disparate thoughts and emotions,”  . “Ryan is as distinctive a poetic voice in our era as Dickinson has been since her her death in 1886. Although the award isn’t designed  always to be given to a poet, to begin with a woman whose work resonates with Dickinson’s is highly appropriate.”

The award presentation, along with a poetry reading by Ryan, will take place in Amherst on Thursday, December 6.   The ceremony, part of a two-day celebration of the 182nd anniversary of Emily Dickinson’s birth, serves as a fund-raiser for the Emily Dickinson Museum. For more information about the entire two days of birthday activities, visit www.EmilyDickinsonMuseum.org/TellitSlant.

The “Tell it Slant” award has been made by internationally-recognized glass artist Josh Simpson from a piece of distinctive New Mexico Blue glass. The manuscript version of the poem has been reproduced in Dickinson’s hand on the glass through a resist process. Simpson, a fan of Dickinson’s poetry, has donated the glass in support of the Emily Dickinson Museum.

The Emily Dickinson Museum, comprising the Dickinson Homestead and The Evergreens and owned by the Trustees of Amherst College, is devoted to the story and legacy of poet Emily Dickinson and her family. The Museum is overseen by a separate Board of Governors charged with raising its operating and capital funds. The Dickinson Homestead was the birthplace and residence of the poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). The Evergreens was the 1856 home of the poet’s brother and sister-in-law, Austin and Susan Dickinson.

The Emily Dickinson museum is located at 280 Main Street in Amherst, Massachusetts, The official Museum website is at www.emilydickinsonmusuem.org. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.