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Tracy Ryan was born in Western Australia, where she grew up as part of a large family. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Curtin University, and studied European languages at the University of Western Australia.
She has lived in Cambridge, England, where she worked as a bookseller, tutor, editor and writer. She was Judith E. Wilson Junior Visiting Fellow at Robinson College, Cambridge in 1998. She taught Australian Literature and Film at the University of East Anglia. She has also lived in Ohio in the USA.
She is married to poet John Kinsella and has two children.
Tracy Ryan has published over nine books, including two novels. Her poetry has appeared in several magazines, such as Salt, Literary Review, and Cordite. She has also appeared in anthologies. Ryan is particularly interested in languages and has translated several French writers including Hélène Cixous, Maryline Desbiolles and Francoise Han.
In the 1990s, Ryan, with John Kinsella, developed Folio(Salt), an off-shoot of Salt Magazine. It publishes and co-publishes "books and chapbooks focused on a pluralist vision of contemporary poetry which extended across national boundaries and a wide range of poetic practices".
Reviewer Tim Allen, reviewing the anthology Foil, wrote of her poetry as follows: "Tracy Ryan’s poems are tightly packed vibrations of spiky conceits. They have a restless intelligence which seems to suspect everything they touch; the references are scholarly and the contention is feminist but the result is polychromatic."
The John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan Poetry Prize was established in 2005 and is open to members of the University of Cambridge. The award is for an original verse composition in any form, of 500 lines or less.
She currently has a two-year grant from the Australia Council.
Ryan's poetry has been compared, by poet Dorothy Hewett, with Sylvia Plath, and Debra Zott, in her review of Hothouse, agrees, saying that "certainly, there are [in Ryan's poetry] the mythic underpinnings one finds in Plath's poetry, as well as that quality of imbuing the personal with highly dramatised mythic proportions" and that "it is no secret that Ryan has been influenced by Plath". However, she argues that "the very mention of Plath's name shapes, and threatens to place limits on, the reader's experience of Ryan's poetry", that "Tracy Ryan's poetry does not need the Plath myth to prop it up".
In 2001, Ryan said the following about her writing:
I don’t adhere to any particular school of thought, except in the broadest sense that my writing is inextricably bound up with my feminism. This would be the only real connector between my books. I am interested in trying to find ways in which language may be interrupted, disrupted and rejigged for feminist purposes (among others). Usually this attempt would arise from something in either my personal life or the world around me. My home state is currently enacting a legal clamp-down on women, with regard to street prostitution—passing laws that restrict women’s movements and rights to occupy space. Though such factors are often what ‘provokes’ me into a poem, the poem equally draws life off other books (like most poets, I spend a lot of time reading). I work by a kind of principle of immersion in particular poets at particular times.