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Published October 17, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 707
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Peter Schmitt is a Floridian, and the following poem is from his book, Renewing the Vows, published by David Robert Books. Poetry seems to be the perfect medium for brief anecdotal stories, but most of us have higher expectations of a poem, believing it should reach beneath the surface and draw up something from the deeper parts of experience. This is just such a poem.

The Bench

peter schmittIt's all like a bad riddle, our widow friend
said at the time. If a tree falls in the woods
and kills your husband, what can you build from it?
That she was speaking quite literally
we did not know until the day months later
the bench arrived, filling that foyer space
in the house the neighbors pitched in to finish.

She'd done it, she said, for the sake of the boys,
and was never more sure of her purpose
than when they were off, playing in the woods
their father loved, somewhere out of earshot
and she would be struggling in with groceries.
For her, it was mostly a place to rest
such a weight, where other arms might have reached

to lift what they could. Or like the time we knocked
at her door, and finding it just ajar,
cautiously entered the sunstruck hallway,
and saw her sitting there staring into space,
before she heard our steps and caught herself,
turning smiling toward us, a book left
lying open on the bench beside her.


We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 ©2007 by Peter Schmitt, "The Bench," from Renewing the Vows  (David Robert Books, 2007). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Schmitt and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2018 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.


Published September 07, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 702
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

David Mason is the former poet laureate of Colorado and a professor of literature and writing at Colorado College. His most recent book is The Sound: New and Selected Poems, from Red Hen press. I very much like the way in which the muddy boots both open and close this poem, in which not one but two biographies are offered to us in less than a hundred words.

The Mud Room

david masonHis muddy rubber boots
stood in the farmhouse mud room
while he sat in the kitchen,
unshaven, dealing solitaire.

His wife (we called her Auntie)
rolled out dough in the kitchen
for a pie, put up preserves
and tidied, clearing her throat.

They listened to the TV
at six, he with his fingers
fumbling the hearing aids,
she watching the kitchen clock.

Old age went on like that,
a vegetable patch, a horse
some neighbor kept in the barn,
the miles of grass and fences.

After he died his boots
stood muddy in the mud room
as if he'd gone in socks,
softly out to the meadow.

We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 ©2017 by David Mason, "The Mud Room." Poem reprinted by permission of David Mason. Introduction copyright ©2018 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.
Published July 22, 2018
terri kerby ericksonAmerican Life in Poetry: Column 695
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

In one of my recent columns I wrote about the importance to the overall effect of a poem of having a strong ending, and here's a fine example of that. It's by Terri Kirby Erickson, a North Carolinian, from her book, Becoming the Blue Heron, published by Press 53. Others of Erickson's poems are available in the column's archives at www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

My Cousin, Milton

My cousin, Milton, worked for a cable company.
The boy I knew when we were children

had fists that were often clenched, his face set like
an old man whose life had been so hard,

it hardened him. But the man's hands opened to let
more of the world in. He sent the funniest

cards to family and friends at Christmas, laid down
cable so others could connect. Yet, he lived

alone, kept to himself much of the time, so when
his sister found his body, he'd been gone

a good while. He died young at fifty-seven, without
fuss or bother. No sitting by the bedside

or feeding him soup. He just laid himself down like
a trunk line and let the signal pass through.

We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 ©2017 by Terri Kirby Erickson from Becoming the Blue Heron  (Press 53, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Terri Kirby Erickson and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2018 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.
Published February 01, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 670
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I'm writing this column on a very cold day, and it's nice to be inside with a board game to play, but better yet, for me at least, to be inside with a poem about a board game. This Monopoly game by Connie Wanek is from her book Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems  from the University of Nebraska Press.

Monopoly

Connie WanekWe used to play, long before we bought real houses.
A roll of the dice could send a girl to jail.
The money was pink, blue, gold, as well as green,
and we could own a whole railroad
or speculate in hotels where others dreaded staying:
the cost was extortionary.

At last one person would own everything,
every teaspoon in the dining car, every spike
driven into the planks by immigrants,
every crooked mayor.
But then, with only the clothes on our backs,
we ran outside, laughing.


We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 Connie Wanek, “Monopoly,” from Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems  (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Connie Wanek and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.
Published January 13, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 668
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I've had a couple of aquariums (or is the plural aquaria?), but I didn't take very good care of either one. The glass clouded over with algae, and the fish had to live on whatever they could scrounge because I'd forget to feed them. Some liked eating each other. But here's a poem (a sonnet!) about an aquarium you can actually see into. The poet, Kim Addonizio, lives in California, and her most recent book is Mortal Trash  (W. W. Norton, 2016).

Aquarium

kim addonizio picThe fish are drifting calmly in their tank
between the green reeds, lit by a white glow
that passes for the sun. Blindly, the blank
glass that holds them in displays their slow
progress from end to end, familiar rocks
set into the gravel, murmuring rows
of filters, a universe the flying fox
and glass cats, Congo tetras, bristle-nose
pleocostemus all take for granted. Yet
the platys, gold and red, persist in leaping
occasionally, as if they can't quite let
alone a possibility—of wings,
maybe, once they reach the air? They die
on the rug. We find them there, eyes open in surprise.

We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 ©1994 by Kim Addonizio, “Aquarium,” from The Philosopher's Club , (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1994). Poem reprinted by permission of Kim Addonizio and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.
Published November 02, 2017
American Life in Poetry: Column 657
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I was deeply moved by this week's poem, which shows us the courage of a person struggling with a disability, one that threatens the way in which she wishes to present herself. It illustrates the fierce dignity that many of us have observed in elderly people. Wesley McNair served five years as poet laureate of Maine, and his most recent book is The Unfastening, published by David R. Godine.


My Mother's Penmanship Lessons

wesley mcnairIn her last notes, when her hand began
to tremble, my mother tried to teach it

the penmanship she was known for,
how to make the slanted stems

of the p's and d's, the descending
roundness of the capital m's, the long

loops of the f's crossed at the center,
sending it back again and again

until each message was the same:
a record of her insistence that the hand

return her to the way she was before,
and of all the ways the hand had disobeyed.


We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 Wesley McNair, “My Mother's Penmanship Lessons,” from The Unfastening, (David R. Godine, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Wesley McNair and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.
Published June 30, 2017
American Life in Poetry: Column 639
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

One of my favorite poems is Louise Bogan's "The Crossed Apple" which mentions two species, Meadow Milk and Sweet Burning, and since reading it many years ago I have made notes of the names of apples, a poet's delight. In this touching poem by Cathryn Essinger, who lives in Ohio, I've come upon yet another for my collection. Her most recent book is What I Know About Innocence from Main Street Rag press.

Summer Apples

cathy essingerI planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,

but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers

slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than

the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,

holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they're so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how

to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.

And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where

the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.

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 Cathryn Essinger, “Summer Apples,” from Alaska Quarterly Review, (Vol 33, No. 1 & 2, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Cathryn Essinger and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.
Published December 02, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 609
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

We've been selecting poems for this column for more than ten years and I can't remember ever publishing a poem about a cat. But here at last is a cat, a lovely old cat. Ron Koertge lives in California, and his most recent book of poems is Vampire Planet: New & Selected Poems, from Red Hen Press.

Lily

ron koertgeNo one would take her when Ruth passed.
As the survivors assessed some antiques,
I kept hearing, "She's old. Somebody
should put her down."

I picked her up instead. Every night I tell her
about the fish who died for her, the ones
in the cheerful aluminum cans.

She lies on my chest to sleep, rising
and falling, rising and falling like a rowboat
fastened to a battered dock by a string.

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 Ron Koertge, “Lily,” from Vampire Planet: New & Selected Poems, (Red Hen Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Ron Koertge 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.
Published November 03, 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

emilie buchwaldIn 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.
Published October 01, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 601
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Barbara Crooker, who lives in Pennsylvania, has become one of this column's favorite poets. We try to publish work that a broad audience of readers can understand and, we hope, may be moved by, and this particular writer is very good at that. Here's an example from her collection, Gold, from Cascade Books.

Grief

is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.
But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting
around my ankles, moving downstream
over the flat rocks. I'm not able to lift a foot,
move on. Instead, I'm going to stay here
in the shallows with my sorrow, nurture it
like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.
I don't want it to grow up, go to school, get married.
It's mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me
in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet
as a golden Tokay. On the other side,
there are apples, grapes, walnuts,
and the rocks are warm from the sun.
But I'm going to stand here,
growing colder, until every inch
of my skin is numb. I can't cross over.
Then you really will be gone.

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 ©2013 by Barbara Crooker, “Grief” from Gold, (Cascade Books, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker 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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