The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, presented the inaugural “Tell it Slant” award to poet Kay Ryan earlier this month, during a two-day celebration of Emily Dickinson’s birth.
The annual award was established this year by the Emily Dickinson Museum’s Board of Governors in order to honor an individual in any field “whose life work is imbued with the creative spirit of the Amherst poet.” The award takes its name from the well-known Dickinson poem which begins: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—/ Success in Circuit lies / Too bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth's superb surprise.”
Ryan, the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010, published her first book of poetry, Strangely Marked Metal (Copper Beech Press), in 1985. She went on to receive the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004, and her seventh book, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, published in 2010 by Grove Press, received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant in 2011.
According to a recent press release from the Dickinson Museum, “Kay Ryan’s style has often been compared to Emily Dickinson’s for its originality and knotted syntax. Dickinson’s 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, uncluttered, and crackling with wry amusement that belies their density of meaning.” Presenting the award, Gigi Bradford, a member of the Dickinson Museum’s Board of Governors and chair of the Folger Shakespeare Library Poetry Board, said, “Unlike any other poet writing today, Kay Ryan takes Dickinson’s sense of how poetry—sometimes playfully and lightly but always from a slant—helps us to answer the central questions of what it means to be human.”
The award was presented on December 6, a day that marked the 182nd anniversary of Emily Dickinson’s birth. To find out more about the “Tell It Slant” award, and for more information about the Emily Dickinson Museum and Homestead in Amherst, visit emilydickinsonmuseum.org.