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Good Poems Paperback – Deckle Edge, August 26, 2003
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The Amazon Book Review
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"A pretty dandy candy jar. The range of poets is wide, the tone is unpretentious, and the poems are all . . . good." (San Francisco Chronicle)
"These are poems to live in comfort with all one's life." (Booklist)
"[Keillor is] Will Rogers with grammar lessons, Aesop with no ax to grind, the common man's MoliFre." (The Houston Chronicle)
About the Author
Garrison Keillor, author of nearly a dozen books, is founder and host of the acclaimed radio show A Prairie Home Companion and the daily program The Writer's Almanac. He is also a regular contributor to Time magazine.
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Keillor chose his poems from the past as well as the present but with the selections skewed more toward contemporary poets. I found many gems: all the poems by Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski are oustanding, "Poem to be Read at 3 A.M." by Donald Justice, "He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven" by Yeats, "Sonnet XLIII" by Millay, "The Music One Looks Back On" by Stephen Dobyns, and "Bison Crossing Near Mt. Rushmore" by May Swenson are some of my very favorites in this thick volume. I read only a few poems at a time, so this book took me more than 5 months to read.
As with any anthology, I found a few poems I didn't like: "Piano" by D.H. Lawrence, "Sweater Weather" by Sharon Bryan, "Year's End" by Richard Wilbur, and "Lazy" by David Lee were among the few poems I thought were bad. And I'm still struggling to like anything by Dickinson. Keillor includes several of her poems.
There are a couple of minor miscues in the book. For some reason, Keillor left out biographies for Robert Kinsley and H. W. Longfellow. And one poem - "Sir Patrick Spens" - was much shorter in "Good Poems" than it is in another volume of poetry that I have. This makes me question the editing of other poems in the volume.
I can highly recommend this book of poems. There is something in it for all readers of poetry. Be sure to read the bios as you go; they provide useful back story to what you are reading.
One word of caution: the Kindle version of this book is terrible. Don't waste your money; be sure to read a paper copy.
UNFORTUNATELY I am extremely disappointed in the E-Book. It does not have a FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS. It only has section headings which make it impossible to browse poems or poets and read individual poems. This defect IMO makes the ebook useless and I have returned it for a refund.
I should also point out that the companion book - Good Poems for Hard Times does not have this defect. Each poem is listed by name in it's Table of Contents, but does not include the poet name as part of that entry.
No amateur with words, himself, Mr. Keillor writes a decent introduction about his childhood in Minnesota, family travels, and how grade school teachers ruin poetry for our youth. "Americans are impatient with riddles and so they give poetry a wide berth, knowing from Miss Fernwood's 8th grade English class that a page of writing with an uneven right margin means a series of jokes with no punch lines, a puzzle with no right answers." Too often poets whom Keillor describes as "upward-striving" write about Europe, but not the writers he has selected in this collection of over 260 poems. He gives a whole laundry list of subjects that these poems write about, purely American, and Europe be damned.
Mr. Keillor includes a lot of poems from poets I know and like: Wendell Berry, Robert Bly, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Allen Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Robinson Jeffers, Galway Kinnell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Grace Paley, Kenneth Rexroth, Theodore Roethke, W. D. Snodgdrass, Gary Snyder, William Stafford, John Updike, James Tate, Marge Percy, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sara Teasdale, May Sarton, Donald Justice, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Carlos Williams, Anne Sexton, Dana Gioia--and of course the father and mother of twentieth century American poetry, Mr. Whitman and Ms. Dickinson. Mr. Keiller even includes Johnny Cash for his "Folsom Prison Blues." (I cannot imagine, however, hearing anyone read this poem rather than sing it.)
There are even more poets I've never heard of in this big collection in praise of America. My two favorites are from poets previously unknown to me: The first is "Bridal Shower" by George Bilgere, a poem that resonated with me to the 12th power. I suspect others feel just as strongly about people who talk on cell phones in public. Here is the poem in its entirety.
Perhaps in a distant café,
Four or five people are talking
With the four or five people
Who are chatting on their cell phones this morning
In my favorite café.
And perhaps someone there,
Someone like me, is watching them as they frown,
Or smile, or shrug
At their invisible friends or lovers,
Jabbing the air for emphasis.
And, like me, he misses the old days,
When talking to yourself
Meant you were crazy,
Back when being crazy was a big deal.
Not just an acronym
Or something you could take a pill for.
I liked it
When people who were talking to themselves
might actually have been talking to God or an angel.
You respected people like that.
You didn't want to kill them,
As I want to kill the woman at the next table
With the little blue light on her ear
Who has been telling the emptiness in front of her
About her daughter's bridal shower
In astonishing detail
For the past thirty minutes.
O person like me
Phoneless in your distant cafe,
I wish we could meet to discuss this,
And perhaps you would help me
Murder this woman on her cell phone,
After which we could have a cup of coffee,
Maybe a bagel, and talk to each other,
Face to face.
The second poem, from a section named "Never Expected To Be There" is on a totally different subject, one that will tear your heart out, "Meadowbrook Nursing Home" by Alice N. Persons. The narrator of the poem takes her cat Lucy, who is fifteen and "getting creaky herself," to visit Mrs. Harris in a nursing home. Mrs. Harris speaks:
"I had a cat called Lily--she was so pretty, all white.
She was with me for twenty years, after my husband died too.
She slept with me every night--I loved her very much.
It's hard, in here, since I can't get around."
Lucy was settling in on the bed.
"You won't believe it, but I used to love to dance.
I was a fool for it! I even won contests.
I wish I had danced more.
It's funny, what you miss when everything. . . . . is gone."
This last was a murmur. She'd fallen asleep.
The narrator then goes home and dances to Tina Turner. This poem, to paraphrase Mr. Keillor in describing Emily Dickinson's poetry in his first collection of poems GOOD POEMS, will take your head off.
Thank you, Mr. Keillor, for another fine collection of poems with something for everyone.
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But what do I now? Can I ever recommend a book with his name on it, ever again?