Known for compact writing and for leading a quiet life, Kay Ryan has taken on a very public role as the nation's poet laureate.
She says she came to poetry reluctantly, but even as a child, she was infatuated with language.
"I would like to say that, if a poem feels really dense, it isn't good. I mean, if you put it in your hand and it falls through your hand, that's no good. It's got to float," she explains in this interview.
"If you have this idea of compressed language, it gives people a sense that it's going to be dense and kind of oppressive, whereas I would like to think that it can be highly selected, but not make you feel that you've just had a vitamin pill."
To begin a poem, Ryan says she starts with a clichÃ©. "I tend to think in cliches when I think to myself," she explains. But then she makes it a personal challenge to say "a thing differently than I'd ever said it before, never, you know, using the old standby."
For more on how to incorporate this conversation into the class room, see the discussion questions also included in this Unit.