10/31/2016




American Life in Poetry: Column 606
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Emilie Buchwald was the co-publisher and founding editor of Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis going on forty years ago, and that press grew up to become one of the finest literary publishers in our country. Today she edits children's books at Gryphon Press, which she also founded. Here's a lovely remembrance from her new book, The Moment's Only Moment, from Nodin Press.


My Mother's Music

In the evenings of my childhood,
when I went to bed,
music washed into the cove of my room,
my door open to a slice of light.

I felt a melancholy I couldn't have named,
a longing for what I couldn't yet have said
or understood but still
knew was longing,
knew was sadness
untouched by time.

Sometimes
the music was a rippling stream
of clear water rushing
over a bed of river stones
caught in sunlight.

And many nights
I crept from bed
to watch her
swaying where she sat
overtaken by the tide,
her arms rowing the music
out of the piano.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2016 by Emilie Buchwald, “My Mother's Music,” from The Moment's Only Moment, (Nodin Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Emilie Buchwald and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.

10/24/2016



American Life in Poetry: Column 605
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Beginning writers often tell me their real lives aren't interesting enough to write about, but the mere act of shaping a poem lifts its subject matter above the ordinary. Here's Natasha Trethewey, who served two terms as U. S. Poet Laureate, illustrating just what I've described. It's from her book Domestic Work, from Graywolf Press. Trethewey lives in Georgia.

Housekeeping

We mourn the broken things, chair legs
wrenched from their seats, chipped plates,
the threadbare clothes. We work the magic
of glue, drive the nails, mend the holes.
We save what we can, melt small pieces
of soap, gather fallen pecans, keep neck bones
for soup. Beating rugs against the house,
we watch dust, lit like stars, spreading
across the yard. Late afternoon, we draw
the blinds to cool the rooms, drive the bugs
out. My mother irons, singing, lost in reverie.
I mark the pages of a mail-order catalog,
listen for passing cars. All day we watch
for the mail, some news from a distant place.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2000 by Natasha Trethewey, “Housekeeping,” from Domestic Work, (Graywolf Press, 2000). Poem reprinted by permission of Natasha Trethewey and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.

9/12/2016



American Life in Poetry: Column 599
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Here's a poem by Debra Nystrom about what it feels like to be a schoolgirl in rural America. No loud laughter echoing in the shopping mall for these young women. The poet lives in Virginia and this is from her book, Night Sky Frequencies, from Sheep Meadow Press.


Restless After School


Nothing to do but scuff down
the graveyard road behind the playground,
past the name-stones lined up in rows
beneath their guardian pines,
on out into the long, low waves of plains
that dissolved time. We'd angle off
from fence and telephone line, through
ribbon-grass that closed behind as though
we'd never been, and drift toward the bluff
above the river-bend where the junked pickup
moored with its load of locust-skeletons.
Stretched across the blistered hood, we let
our dresses catch the wind while clouds above
dimmed their pink to purple, then shadow-blue—
So slow, we listened to our own bones grow.




We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2016 by Debra Nystrom, “Restless After School,” Night Sky Frequencies and Selected Poems, (Sheep Meadow Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Debra Nystrom and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.

7/25/2016




American Life in Poetry: Column 592
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


There are dozens of folk tales in which someone is sent on an errand and it gets derailed in one way or another. Here Alberto Ríos, who lives in Arizona, gives us a fresh one from Sonora, from his book from Copper Canyon Press, A Small Story About the Sky.



One Thursday Afternoon: Magdalena, Sonora, 1939

Baltazár went to the market and came home with a parrot.
Thursdays in this town were always just so:

What should have been four big potatoes and some white cheese
Came home in a cage filled with green feathers and two wings.

The mathematics of exchange in this world, the stomach or the heart—
Which of these, how much of one for the other,

Friday would have to sort out. On a Thursday afternoon
The world sang, a full dinner this way coming through the air.
 


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2015 by Alberto Ríos, “One Thursday Afternoon: Magdalena, Sonora, 1939,” (A Small Story About the Sky, Copper Canyon Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Alberto Ríos and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.
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12/14/2015


American Life in Poetry: Column 559
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Several years ago, I co-edited an anthology of poems about birds, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to include this one, a delight. J. Allyn Rosser lives in Ohio. Her most recent book is Mimi’s Trapeze (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014).


Pelicans in December

One can’t help admiring
their rickety grace

and old-world feathers
like seasoned boardwalk planks.

They pass in silent pairs,
as if a long time ago

they had wearied of calling out.
The wind tips them, their

ungainly, light-brown weight,
into a prehistoric wobble,

wings’-end fingers stretching
from fingerless gloves,

necks slightly tucked and stiff,
peering forward and down,

like old couples arm in arm
on icy sidewalks, careful,

careful, mildly surprised
by how difficult it has become

to stay dignified and keep moving
even after the yelping gulls have gone;

even after the scattered sand,
and the quietly lodged complaints.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2014 by J. Allyn Rosser, “Pelicans in November,” from Mimi’s Trapeze, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of J. Allyn Rosser and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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.
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9/14/2015




American Life in Poetry: Column 547
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE



I’ve seen many poems about the atomic bomb drills that schoolchildren were put through during the Cold War, but this one reaches beyond that experience. John Philip Johnson lives and writes in Nebraska, and has an illustrated book of poems, Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town.


There Have Come Soft Rains


In kindergarten during the Cold War,
mid-day late bells jolted us,
sending us single file into the hallway,
where we sat, pressing our heads
between our knees, waiting.

During one of the bomb drills,
Annette was standing.
My mother said I would talk on and on
about her, about how pretty she was.
I still remember her that day,
curly hair and pretty dress,
looking perturbed the way
little children do.
Why Annette? There’s nothing
to be upset about—
The bombs won’t get us,
I’ve seen what’s to come—
it is the days, the steady
pounding of days, like gentle rain,
that will be our undoing.




We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2014 by John Philip Johnson, “There Have Come Soft Rains,” from Rattle, (No. 45, Fall 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of John Philip Johnson and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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.

9/07/2015







American Life in Poetry: Column 546
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


They say that when undergoing cancer treatment, the patient's attitude is all-important. Here Robert King, a poet now living in Colorado, looks with wit and bemusement at his chemotherapy. His most recent book is Some of These Days, (Conundrum Press, 2013).

The Cancer Port

It's called a port, a harbor, haven, home,
a city on the coast of my chest opened
for a passage into my heart—which we say
is where emotions live—and it's embedded,

slipped into a shallow nest of flesh, a bump,
a lump under the skin on the right so
the narrow street can reach the marketplace
of the aorta, receptive to any

incoming ship, needle, boat, barge, unloading
its spices, crates of dates, barrels of poisons,
Etoposide phosphate, amethyst, amaranth,
Cisplatin, amphorae of wine and olives.

I carry it secretly under my skin
because it is easier. I carry
everything under my skin, so lightly
I barely notice, watching from the ramparts

the dangerous rocky anchorage below
where goods and evils, bundled together
and tied, arrive, waiting to be unloaded
and poured out into a welcoming country.