Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Good Poems: American Places

Good Poems: American Places

Garrison Keillor 

Category: Poetry
Synopsis: All-American poetry. Lots of it.
Pages: 444
Date finished: 15 April 2015

Rating: *****

Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems book series (this is the third) is an example of truth in advertising: the poems included really are good poems.

I have had this one on my shelf for months (years?) just waiting for the right time to dig in. It seemed like 444 pages was awful long for a poetry anthology, so I had to wait until I had the patience and mood for that much poetry. Well. This month I have read more poetry than at any time in my life, I’m quite certain (and I have a long relationship with poetry). It was the right time.

I’d taken Keillor a bit literally with this title. To me, “American Places” meant just that, places around America. I thought there’d be New York City poems, poems about farming and ranching in the Midwest, Philip Levine’s Detroit poems, black poems, white poems, coastal poems, ocean poems—you know, places. Not so. I often find that I can be a bit literal when it comes to poetry, which is, frankly, why I love Keillor’s editing so much. He collects poems that don’t require an MFA to decode, that in fact, likely weren’t even written by MFAs, and he makes no apologies for including the same poets over and over. Do what you like, like what you do, I say. And I like approachable poems. I’m a sucker for poems about dogs, bees, birds, fathers, farms, and good days. And this collection had all of it. It seems trite to say, but there was not one poem in the whole collection that I disliked, only ones that didn’t speak to me as well as others. High praise for any collection.

I found a couple new poets (there weren’t many poets that aren’t quite famous, though) and I was reacquainted with poets I’d like to study in depth like Maxine Kumin and James Wright.

I’ll stop gushing and let the poems speak for themselves. Following are a few of the poems I marked as favorites so you can see for yourself. (Most are linked to Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac website.)

Summer Kitchen, Donald Hall

Goodbye, New York, Deborah Garrison
(A rhyming poem that doesn’t drive me nuts!)

Gate C22, Ellen Bass

The Light by the Barn, William Stafford
(Stafford is my Patron Saint of Poetry.)

To make a prairie, Emily Dickinson
(Okay, so I knew this poem before this collection, but it’s one of my absolute favorite poems.)

Winter: Tonight: Sunset, David Budbill

Beans and Franks, Donald Hall

Snow, Aldo, Kate DiCamillo
(I just might be the only American to know DiCamillo for her poetry before I knew her for her children’s books!)

Manna, Joseph Stroud

Inheritance, W.S. Merwin

Men Throwing Bricks, Michael Chitwood

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes! It’s the perfect place to start if you want to read approachable modern poetry.

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