American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry: Column 234

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

This week’s poem is by a high school student, Michelle Bennett, who lives in Tukwila, Washington, and here she is taking a look at what comes next, Western Washington University in Bellingham, with everything new about it, including opportunity.


Western

American Life in Poetry: Column 233

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Diane Glancy is one of our country’s Native American poets, and I recently judged her latest book, Asylum in the Grasslands, the winner of a regional competition. Here is a good example of her clear and steady writing.

Indian Summer

American Life in Poetry: Column 232

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’ve built many wren houses since my wife and I moved to the country 25 years ago. It’s a good thing to do in the winter. At one point I had so many extra that in the spring I set up at a local farmers’ market and sold them for five dollars apiece. I say all this to assert that I am an authority at listening to the so small voices that Thomas R. Smith captures in this poem. Smith lives in Wisconsin.

Baby Wrens’ Voices

American Life in Poetry: Column 231

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

This column originates on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and at the beginning of each semester, we see parents helping their children move into their dorm rooms and apartments and looking a little shaken by the process. This wonderful poem by Sue Ellen Thompson of Maryland captures not only a moment like that, but a mother’s feelings as well.

Helping My Daughter Move into Her First Apartment

This is all I am to her now:
a pair of legs in running shoes,

American Life in Poetry: Column 230

 BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

It’s been sixty-odd years since I was in the elementary grades, but I clearly remember those first school days in early autumn, when summer was suddenly over and we were all perched in our little desks facing into the future. Here Ron Koertge of California gives us a glimpse of a day like that.


First Grade

American Life in Poetry: Column 229

 BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE 


For over forty years, Mark Vinz, of Moorhead, Minnesota—poet, teacher, publisher—has been a prominent advocate for the literature of the Upper Great Plains. Here’s a recent poem that speaks to growing older.


Cautionary Tales

American Life in Poetry: Column 228

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE 

I don’t often mention literary forms, but of this lovely poem by Cecilia Woloch I want to suggest that the form, a villanelle, which uses a pattern of repetition, adds to the enchantment I feel in reading it. It has a kind of layering, like memory itself. Woloch lives and teaches in southern California. 

My Mother’s Pillow 

American Life in Poetry: Column 226

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Elizabeth Bishop, one of our greatest American poets, once wrote a long poem in which the sudden appearance of a moose on a highway creates a community among a group of strangers on a bus. Here Ronald Wallace, a Wisconsin poet, gives us a sighting with similar results.

Sustenance

American Life in Poetry: Column 225

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There have been many poems written in which a photograph is described in detail, and this one by Margaret Kaufman, of the Bay Area in California, uses the snapshot to carry her further, into the details of memory.

Photo, Brownie Troop, St. Louis, 1949

American Life in Poetry: Column 224

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

When we're young, it seems there are endless possibilities for lives we might lead, and then as we grow older and the opportunities get fewer we begin to realize that the life we've been given is the only one we're likely to get. Here's Jean Nordhaus, of the Washington, D.C. area, exploring this process.

I Was Always Leaving

I was always leaving, I was
about to get up and go, I was
on my way, not sure where.
Somewhere else. Not here.
Nothing here was good enough.