American Life in Poetry

07/01/2009 - 3:10pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There's lots of literature about the loss of innocence, because we all share in that loss and literature is about what we share. Here's a poem by Alexandra Teague, a San Franciscan, in which a child's awakening to the alphabet coincides with another awakening: the unsettling knowledge that all of us don't see things in the same way.

Language Lessons

06/23/2009 - 10:14am

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Coleman Barks, who lives in Georgia, is not only the English language's foremost translator of the poems of the 13th century poet, Rumi, but he's also a loving grandfather, and for me that's even more important. His poems about his granddaughter, Briny, are brim full of joy. Here's one:

Glad

In the glory of the gloaming-green soccer
field her team, the Gladiators, is losing

ten to zip. She never loses interest in
the roughhouse one-on-one that comes

06/18/2009 - 9:21am

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Sometimes, it's merely the sound of a child's voice in a nearby room that makes a parent feel immensely lucky. To celebrate Father's Day, here's a joyful poem of fatherhood by Todd Boss, who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This Morning in a Morning Voice

06/12/2009 - 10:01am

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

One of the privileges of being U.S. Poet Laureate was to choose two poets each year to receive a $10,000 fellowship, funded by the Witter Bynner Foundation. Joseph Stroud, who lives in California, was one of my choices. This poem is representative of his clear-eyed, imaginative poetry.

Night in Day

The night never wants to end, to give itself over
to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.
Even on summer solstice, the day of light’s great

06/05/2009 - 9:00am

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

As we all know, getting older isn't hard to do. Time continues on. In this poem, Deborah Warren of Massachusetts asks us to think about the life lived between our past and present selves, as indicated in the marginal comments of an old book. There's something beautiful about books allowing us to talk to who we once were, and this poem captures this beauty.

Marginalia

05/27/2009 - 5:48pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here is one of my favorite mother-daughter poems, by Marie Howe, who lives in New York City and who has a charming little girl.

Hurry

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

05/11/2009 - 4:23pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Judy Loest lives in Knoxville and, like many fine Appalachian writers, her poems have a welcoming conversational style, rooted in that region's storytelling tradition. How gracefully she sweeps us into the landscape and the scene!

Faith

Leaves drift from the cemetery oaks onto late grass,
Sun-singed, smelling like straw, the insides of old barns.
The stone angel's prayer is uninterrupted by the sleeping
Vagrant at her feet, the lone squirrel, furtive amid the litter.

05/04/2009 - 3:32pm

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

To commemorate Mother's Day, here's a lovely poem by David Wojahn of Virginia, remembering his mother after forty years.

Walking to School, 1964

Blurring the window, the snowflakes' numb white lanterns.
She's brewed her coffee, in the bathroom sprays cologne
And sets her lipstick upright on the sink.
The door ajar, I glimpse the yellow slip,

The rose-colored birthmark on her shoulder.
Then she's dressed—the pillbox hat and ersatz fur,

04/27/2009 - 11:57am

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Sometimes I wonder at my wife's forbearance. She's heard me tell the same stories dozens of times, and she still politely laughs when she should. Here's a poem by Susan Browne, of California, that treats an oft-told story with great tenderness.

On Our Eleventh Anniversary

You're telling that story again about your childhood,
when you were five years old and rode your blue bicycle

from Copenhagen to Espergaerde, and it was night
and snowing by the time you arrived,

04/22/2009 - 11:26am

American Life in Poetry: Column 213

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Bill Holm, one of the most intelligent and engaging writers of our northern plains, died on February 25th. He will be greatly missed. He and I were of the same generation and we shared the same sense of wonder, amusement, and skepticism about the course of technology. I don't yet own an Earbud, but I won't need to, now that we have Bill's poem.

Earbud

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