4/14/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 473
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


I was born in April and have never agreed with T.S. Eliot that it is “the cruellest month.” Why would I want to have been born from that? Here’s Robert Hedin, who lives in Minnesota, showing us what April can be like once Eliot is swept aside.

This Morning I Could Do
A Thousand Things


I could fix the leaky pipe
Under the sink, or wander over
And bother Jerry who’s lost
In the bog of his crankcase.
I could drive the half-mile down
To the local mall and browse
Through the bright stables
Of mowers, or maybe catch
The power-walkers puffing away
On their last laps. I could clean
The garage, weed the garden,
Or get out the shears and
Prune the rose bushes back.
Yes, a thousand things
This beautiful April morning.
But I’ve decided to just lie
Here in this old hammock,
Rocking like a lazy metronome,
And wait for the day lilies
To open. The sun is barely
Over the trees, and already
The sprinklers are out,
Raining their immaculate
Bands of light over the lawns.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2013 by Robert Hedin from his most recent book of poems, Poems Prose Poems, Red Dragonfly Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Robert Hedin and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
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3/31/2014


American Life in Poetry: Column 471

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Despite having once been bitten by a rabid bat, and survived, much to the disappointment of my critics, I find bats fascinating, and Peggy Shumaker of Alaska has written a fine poem about them. I am especially fond of her perfect verb, “snick,” for the way they snatch insects out of the air.


Spirit of the Bat

Hair rush, low swoop—
so those of us

stuck here on earth
know—you must be gods.

Or friends of gods,
granted chances

to push off into sky,
granted chances

to hear so well
your own voice bounced

back to you
maps the night.

Each hinge
in your wing’s

an act of creation.
Each insect

you snick out of air
a witness.

You transform
obstacles

into sounds,
then dodge them.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2013 by Peggy Shumaker from her most recent book of poems, Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica, Red Hen Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Peggy Shumaker and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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3/24/2014




American Life in Poetry: Column 470

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Considering that I’m a dog lover, I haven’t included nearly enough dog poems in this column. My own dog, Howard, now in his dotage, has never learned a trick of any kind, nor learned to behave, so I admire Karla Huston for having the patience to teach her dog something. Huston lives in Wisconsin.

Sway

The cruelest thing I did to my dog
wasn’t to ignore his barking for water
when his tongue hung like a deflated balloon

or to disregard his chronic need for a belly rub
but to teach him to shake hands,
a trick that took weeks of treats, his dark eyes

like Greek olives, moist with desire.
I made him sit, another injustice,
and allowed him to want the nuggets enough

to please me. Shake, I said. Shake?
touching the back of his right leg
until he lifted it, his saliva trickling

from soft jowls, my hand wet with his hunger.
Mistress of the biscuit, I ruffled his ears
and said good dog until he got it. Before long,

he raised his paw, shook me until he got
the treat, the rub, the water in a chilled silver bowl,
the wilderness in him gone, his eyes still lit with longing.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Karla Huston from her most recent book of poems, A Theory of Lipstick, Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Karla Huston and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

3/03/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 462
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


This year’s brutal winter surely calls for a poem such as today’s selection, a peek at the inner workings of spring. Susan Kelly-DeWitt lives and teaches in Sacramento.

Apple Blossoms


One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2001 by Susan Kelly-DeWitt, whose most recent book of poems is The Fortunate Islands, Marick Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from To a Small Moth, Poet’s Corner Press, 2001, by permission of Susan Kelly-DeWitt and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
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2/22/2014

Ann McNeal, Today I am content

 

by Ann McNeal 

Today I am content


in my discontent—
feeling  the restlessness,
wanting completion,
itching and
scratching,
looking elsewhere.
While behind,
below, between,
around,
something
like a waterline
in a painting
anchors, stills,
keeps level while
red clouds
and purple
all around
surge.



 Originally published in The Spaces Between, Nuthatch Press, 2012.

2/17/2014




American Life in Poetry: Column 465
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


One of the founders of modernist poetry, Ezra Pound, advised poets and artists to “make it new.” I’ve never before seen a poem about helping a tree shake the snow from itself, and I like this one by Thomas Reiter, who lives in New Jersey.

Releasing a Tree

Softly pummeled overnight, the lower
limbs of our Norway spruce
flexed and the deepening snow held them.
Windless sunlight now, so I go out
wearing hip waders and carrying
not a fly rod but a garden hoe. I begin
worrying the snow for the holdfast
of a branch that’s so far down
a wren’s nest floats above it like a buoy.
I work the hoe, not chopping but cradling,
then pull straight up. A current of air
as the needles loft their burden
over my head. Those grace notes
of the snowfall, crystals giving off
copper, green, rose—watching them
I stumble over a branch, go down
and my gloves fill with snow. Ah, I find
my father here: I remember as a child
how flames touched my hand the time
I added wood to the stove in our ice-fishing
shanty, how he plunged that hand
through the hole into the river, teaching me
one kind of burning can ease another.
The branch bobs then tapers into place
and composes itself, looking
unchanged though all summer
it will bring up this day from underfoot.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Thomas Reiter, whose most recent book of poems is Catchment, Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from The Southern Review, Vol. 49, no. 1, by permission of Thomas Reiter and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

2/12/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 464 
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

We human beings think we’re pretty special when compared to the “lower” forms of life, but now and then nature puts us in our place. Here’s an untitled short poem by Jonathan Greene, who lives in the outer Bluegrass region of Kentucky.

Untitled

Honored when
the butterfly lights
on my shoulder.

Next stop:
a rotting log.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2001 by Jonathan Greene, whose most recent book of poems is Distillations and Siphonings, Broadstone Books, 2010. Poem reprinted from blink, September-October 2001, vol. 1, no. 2, by permission of Jonathan Greene and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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