7/28/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 488
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Here’s a poem by an Indiana poet, Shari Wagner, that has a delightful time describing the many sounds of running water.

Creek-Song

It begins in a cow lane
with bees and white clover,
courses along corn, rushes
accelerando against rocks.
It rises to a teetering pitch
as I cross a shaky tree-bridge,
syncopates a riff
over the dissonance
of trash—derelict icebox
with a missing door,
mohair loveseat sinking
into thistle. It winds through green
adder’s mouth, faint as the bells
of Holsteins heading home.
Blue shadows lengthen,
but the undertow
of a harmony pulls me on
through raspy Joe-pye-weed
and staccato-barbed fence.
It hums in a culvert
beneath cars, then empties
into a river that flows oboe-deep
past Indian dance ground, waterwheel
and town, past the bleached
stones in the churchyard,
the darkening hill.

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 ©2010 by The Christian Century. Shari Wagner’s most recent book of poetry is The Harmonist at Nightfall, Bottom Dog Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of The Christian Century and the poet. 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.

7/22/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 487
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Who hasn’t wished he or she could talk to a carnival worker and find out what their lives are like? Everybody, perhaps, but the carnival workers. Here’s a poem by Mark Kraushaar of Wisconsin that captures one of those lives.


The Ring Toss Lady Breaks a Five

It’s all of it rigged, she says,
Bust-one-wins, Hi-striker, even the Dozer.
It’s like you think you’ll score that giant panda
for the wife except you can’t, or not
without you drop another twenty
and then—what?—then you win
a thumb-sized monkey or a little comb.
She hands me five ones and then stands.
She’s worked the whole of the midway,
she says, funnel cake to corn-dogs.
She’s worked every game
plus half the rides, Krazy Koaster,
Avalanche, Wing-Ding, Tilt-a-Whirl
and if there’s somebody sick she’ll do
a kiddy ride too, Li’l Choo-choo, maybe
the Tea Cup.
There’s a collapsing soft sigh
and she sits, opens the paper, turns a page
and as if she were the one assigned to face forwards,
as if it were her job to intuit the world
and interpret the news,
Anymore, she says, it’s out of our hands,
it’s all we can do—it’s not up to you.
You see that bald bronco tearing
tickets at the carousel?
We worked the Bottle-drop
and now he’s mine: he’s no genius
but he loves me and he’s mine.
Things happen, she says, you
can’t take them back.


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 the Alaska Quarterly Review. Mark Kraushaar’s most recent book of poems is The Uncertainty Principle, Waywiser Press, 2012. Poem reprinted from the Alaska Quarterly Review, Vol. 30, No. 1 & 2, by permission of 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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7/07/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 485
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


No ideas but in things, said one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, and here’s a fine poem by Maryann Corbett of St. Paul, Minnesota, about turning up one small object loaded with meaning.


Finding the Lego

You find it when you’re tearing up your life,
trying to make some sense of the old messes,
moving dressers, peering under beds.
Almost lost in cat hair and in cobwebs,
in dust you vaguely know was once your skin,
it shows up, isolated, fragmentary.
A tidy little solid. Tractable.
Knobbed to be fitted in a lock-step pattern
with others. Plastic: red or blue or yellow.
Out of the dark, undamaged, there it is,
as bright and primary colored and foursquare
as the family with two parents and two children
who moved in twenty years ago in a dream.
It makes no allowances, concedes no failures,
admits no knowledge of a little girl
who glared through tears, rubbing her slapped cheek.
Rigidity is its essential trait.
Likely as not, you leave it where it was.


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 Maryann Corbett, from her most recent book of poems, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, Able Muse Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Maryann Corbett 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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5/26/2014



American Life in Poetry: Column 478
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Peter Everwine is a poet whose work I have admired for many years. Here is a poem about an experience many of us have shared. Everwine lives in California, but what happens in this poem happens every day in every corner of the world.  

After the Funeral

We opened closets and bureau drawers
and packed away, in boxes, dresses and shoes,
the silk underthings still wrapped in tissue.
We sorted through cedar chests. We gathered
and set aside the keepsakes and the good silver
and brought up from the coal cellar
jars of tomato sauce, peppers, jellied fruit.
We dismantled, we took down from the walls,
we bundled and carted off and swept clean.
Goodbye, goodbye, we said, closing
the door behind us, going our separate ways
from the house we had emptied,
and which, in the coming days, we would fill
again and empty and try to fill again.

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 Peter Everwine, from Listening Long and Late (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Everwine 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.

5/11/2014




American Life in Poetry: Column 476

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE


Parents and children. Sometimes it seems that’s all there is to life. In this poem Donna Spector, from New York state, gives us a ride that many of us may have taken, hanging on for dear life.

On the Way to the Airport

You’re speeding me down the Ventura freeway
in your battered Scout, patched since your angry
crash into the drunken pole that swerved into your road.
We’ve got no seat belts, no top, bald tires,
so I clutch any metal that seems as though it might
be firm, belie its rusted rattling. Under my
August burn I’m fainting white, but I’m trying
to give you what you want: an easy mother.

For the last two days you’ve been plugged
into your guitar, earphones on, door closed. I spoiled
our holiday with warnings about your accidental
life, said this time I wouldn’t rescue you, knowing
you’d hate me, knowing I’d make myself sick. We’re
speaking now, the airport is so near, New York closer
than my birthday tomorrow, close as bearded death
whose Porsche just cut us off in the fast lane.

When you were three, you asked if God lived
under the street. I said I didn’t know, although
a world opened under my feet walking with you
over strange angels, busy arranging our fate. Soon,
if we make it, I’ll be in the air, where people say God lives,
the line between you and me stretched thinner,
thinner but tight enough still to bind us,
choke us both with love. Your Scout, putty-colored
as L.A. mornings, protests loudly but hangs on.


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 Donna Spector, whose most recent book of poems is The Woman Who Married Herself, Evening Street Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 19, no. 3, by permission of Donna Spector 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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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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