American Life in Poetry

11/23/2009 - 2:17pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Love predated the invention of language, but love poetry got its start as soon as we had words through which to express our feelings. Here’s a lovely example of a contemporary poem of love and longing by George Bilgere, who lives in Ohio.

Night Flight

11/17/2009 - 3:35pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Lots of contemporary poems are anecdotal, a brief narration of some event, and what can make them rise above anecdote is when they manage to convey significance, often as the poem closes. Here is an example of one like that, by Marie Sheppard Williams, who lives in Minneapolis.


Everybody

11/09/2009 - 11:11am

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There are lots of poems in which a poet expresses belated appreciation for a parent, and if you don’t know Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” you ought to look it up sometime. In this lovely sonnet, Kathy Mangan, of Maryland, contributes to that respected tradition.

The Whistle

11/03/2009 - 1:52pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

We haven’t shown you many poems in which the poet enters another person and speaks through him or her, but it is, of course, an effective and respected way of writing. Here Philip Memmer of Deansboro, N.Y., enters the persona of a young woman having an unpleasant experience with a blind date.

The Paleontologist’s Blind Date

11/03/2009 - 1:47pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I love poems in which the central metaphors are fresh and original, and here’s a marvelous, coiny description of autumn by Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck, who lives in Illinois.

Like Coins, November

We drove past late fall fields as flat and cold
as sheets of tin and, in the distance, trees

were tossed like coins against the sky. Stunned gold
and bronze, oaks, maples stood in twos and threes:

10/21/2009 - 7:50pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

It’s likely that if you found the original handwritten manuscript of T. S. Eliot’s groundbreaking poem, “The Waste Land,” you wouldn’t be able to trade it for a candy bar at the Quick Shop on your corner. Here’s a poem by David Lee Garrison of Ohio about how unsuccessfully classical music fits into a subway.

Bach in the DC Subway

10/21/2009 - 7:46pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Though some teacher may have made you think that all poetry is deadly serious, chock full of coded meanings and obscure symbols, poems, like other works of art, can be delightfully playful. Here Bruce Guernsey, who divides his time between Illinois and Maine, plays with a common yam.


Yam

The potato that ate all its carrots,
can see in the dark like a mole,

its eyes the scars
from centuries of shovels, tines.

May spelled backwards
because it hates the light,

10/21/2009 - 7:43pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

An aubade is a poem about separation at dawn, but as you’ll see, this one by Dore Kiesselbach, who lives in Minnesota, is about the complex relationship between a son and his mother.


Aubade

09/28/2009 - 9:49pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Cecilia Woloch teaches in California, and when she’s not with her students she’s off to the Carpathian Mountains of Poland, to help with the farm work. But somehow she resisted her wanderlust just long enough to make this telling snapshot of her father at work.


The Pick

09/21/2009 - 8:54pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I tell my writing students that their most important task is to pay attention to what’s going on around them. God is in the details, as we say. Here David Bottoms, the Poet Laureate of Georgia, tells us a great deal about his father by showing us just one of his hands.

My Father’s Left Hand

Sometimes my old man’s hand flutters over his knee, flaps
in crazy circles, and falls back to his leg.

Sometimes it leans for an hour on that bony ledge.

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