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Poet R.M. Ryan to read at Prairie Lights

BY HANNAH KRAMER | OCTOBER 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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Small moments take the lead in R.M. Ryan's poetry. He focuses on writing poems about little moments in life, with the hope that it will teach readers to keep their eyes open.

"That's why people read poems, " Ryan said. "They take you in sometimes surprising directions."

Today at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Ryan will read from his newest book of poetry, Vaudeville in the Dark. Admission is free.

In describing the abstract writing process that accompanied the construction of Vaudeville in the Dark and his other works, Ryan said he doesn't see value in beginning poetry with a strict plan. He tries not to follow a particular formula and avoids writing material that sounds forced.

"The poems sort of tells you what's going on," he said. "As you write, you sort of discover what the next step is."

C.J. Hribal, the Louise Edna Goeden Professor of English at Marquette University and a longtime friend of Ryan, appreciates the author's ability to pick apart small moments scattered throughout time and piece them together to tap into the human condition.

"One of the things that I think is terrific about him is that he writes these, what I call these elegiac comedies," Hribal said. "They're these great little hymns to memory and to small, what seem like incidental moments in our past, that help shape who we are now."

Hribal said the two authors met in the early '90s, and at the time Ryan worked as at Baird, an investment firm in Milwaukee. Hribal compared Ryan with writer Wallace Stevens because of his varying careers in business and writing.

"In addition to being a stockbroker, he was also a terrific poet," Hribal said.

Business and writing aren't the only skills that Ryan juggles — he also dabbles in the music world.

Since he and his wife, biographer Carol Skenika moved to the Sonoma Coast, Ryan has collaborated with a band from the area, the Thugz.

"We were looking for a new lyrical view and we had read [Ryan's work] and really liked that …we really liked his lyrics because they gave us a new voice," said band member Mike Campbell.

Campbell said the jam-band musicians use Ryan's lyrics to mesh with their improvisational style and interpret the music that they play differently for each performance.

Ryan's writing style works in a similar improvisational way with the music that the Thugz produces.

"Poetry is kind of an exquisite pleasure; usually, poems happen pretty quickly or don't happen at all," Ryan said. "If a poem is going to work, it happens in just a few hours — it's sort of like gravy."


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