Sunday, May 6, 2012

Good Poems: American Places, edited by Garrison Keillor

With apologies to the late Professor Carol Kyle (and the many other English teachers who tried to teach me about poetry), I really do not know how to review a collection of poetry. But I enjoyed many of the works  in Garrison Keillor's latest collection of "good poems." Keillor says  in the introduction to the book, "The world is our consolation. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, we get into our car and drive." He then begins a long and lovely description of some of the places you might drive to in the United States, places that may be subjects of poems in this volume.

Yet many of the poems are only nominally about places, and they are organized into categories that might not be what you'd expect; a few examples: "On the Road," "A Warm Summer" (ha, I say--summer is not a place at all...or is it?), "The Place Where We Were Naked,"  "Good Work," and "Never Expected to Be There" (dead, that is). While the poems vary widely in form, subject matter, and use of language, they are nearly all quite understandable to the person whose main memory of Professor Kyle's fall 1968 Poetry course is how upset Kyle was when Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.

In this collection, my marked pages suggest I especially appreciated the humor found in many of the poems. A few examples: In "The Church of the Backyard," Chris Forhan brings a large family to life as its members hang around in the backyard on a summer afternoon, ending:

Who would say

through all the little deaths, the separations,
all the long untidy years to come,
each unholy ruckus (the wine glass
smashed against the wall in anger, fists

that pound the steering wheel, bodies
sitting bolt upright in bed with night sweats),
who would say, through all of this,
we're not redeemed by our essential silliness

"Bridal Shower" by George Bilgere is a poetic rant against people on cell phones, in which he says:

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

Right on, brother.

In "The VCCA Fellows Visit the Holiness Baptist Church, Amherst, Virginia," Barbara Crooker describes how the experience of attending service at a black church lightened her heart. As she and her friends left:

We step through the door
into the stunning sunshine, and our hearts
lift out of our chests, tiny birds flying off to light
in the redbuds, to sing and sing and sing.

Finally, as a former member of a middle school band and the mother of two middle school musicians (former), I appreciated the humor of David Wagoner's "The Junior High School Band Concert":

By the last lost chord, our director
Looked older and soberer.
No doubt, in his mind's ear
Some band somewhere
In some Music of some Sphere
Was striking a note as pure
As the wishes of Franz Schubert,
But meanwhile here we were:
A lesson in everything minor,
Decomposing our first composer.

Ah, yes. That is, as poet Sarah Freligh says in her bio in the book, "observing the world around you and translating it for your audience through your own unique filter."

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