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Every day people tune in to The Writer's Almanac on public radio and hear Garrison Keillor read them a poem. And here, for the first time, is an anthology of poems from the show, chosen by the narrator for their wit, their frankness, their passion, their "utter clarity in the face of everything else a person has to deal with at 7 a.m."
The title Good Poems comes from common literary parlance. For writers, it's enough to refer to somebody having written a good poem. Somebody else can worry about greatness. Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" is a good poem, and so is James Wright's "A Blessing." Regular people love those poems. People read them aloud at weddings, people send them by e-mail.
Good Poems includes poems about lovers, children, failure, everyday life, death, and transcendance. It features the work of classic poets, such as Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost, as well as the work of contemporary greats such as Howard Nemerov, Charles Bukowski, Donald Hall, Billy Collins, Robert Bly, and Sharon Olds. It's a book of poems for anybody who loves poetry whether they know it or not.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Garrison Keillor, author of nearly a dozen books, is founder and host of the acclaimed radio show A Prairie Home Companion and the daily program The Writer's Almanac. He is also a regular contributor to Time magazine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Poem in Thanks
Lord Whoever, thank you for this air
I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch
in the woods, the wood for fire,
the light-both lamp and the natural stuff
of leaf-back, fern, and wing.
For the piano, the shovel
for ashes, the moth-gnawed
blankets, the stone-cold water
stone-cold: thank you.
Thank you, Lord, coming for
to carry me here-where I'll gnash
it out, Lord, where I'll calm
and work, Lord, thank you
for the goddamn birds singing!
How Many Nights
How many nights
have I lain in terror,
O Creator Spirit, Maker of night and day,
only to walk out
the next morning over the frozen world
hearing under the creaking of snow
faint, peaceful breaths...
bear, earthworm, ant...
and above me
a wild crow crying 'yaw yaw yaw'
from a branch nothing cried from ever in my life.
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
from The Bay Psalm Book
The Lord to me a shepherd is,
want therefore shall not I:
He in the folds of tender grass,
doth cause me down to lie:
To waters calm me gently leads
restore my soul doth he:
He doth in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake lead me.
Yea, though in valley of death's shade
I walk, none ill I'll fear:
Because thou art with me, thy rod,
and staff my comfort are.
For me a table thou hast spread,
in presence of my foes:
Thou dost anoint my head with oil;
my cup it overflows.
Goodness and mercy surely shall
all my days follow me:
And in the Lord's house I shall dwell
so long as days shall be.
I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Strait from every
seafaring country in the world-
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy-I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what's going to happen.
Address to the Lord
Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that most matters.
'According to Thy will' the thing begins.
It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.
You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves
and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.
Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:
How can I 'love' you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.
I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn't seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you,
and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter and
as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.
Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.
O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die:
grant me wisdom, will, & wit,
purity, probity, pluck, & grit.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice-
these little blessings would suffice
to beget an earthly paradise:
make the bad people good-
and the good people nice;
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.
Reprinted from Good Poems by Garrison Keillor, Copyright ©2002, Viking, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission
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