Shawn Sorensen's Reviews > Good Poems

Good Poems by Garrison Keillor
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's review
Oct 09, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry

Hooked by the intro...funny and opinionated, just the needed thing. A friendly debate over the best poets and poems gets me right here (pointing to chest).

The main purpose of the book is to show how well poetry handles its well-familiar themes: childhood, death and the heartfelt appreciation towards being outside. While this can be annoying in other poetry titles, here those themes get their fair, glorious due. The poets here don't sit by a window and write about robins. They stroll outside through woods to a still pond to share the night with herons and "deep trees" (from a Mary Oliver poem in the book).

Why good poems? Why not great? These are short conversational pieces, most without endings that benefit the start and middle of a piece. Poems where the last stanza usually summarizes the whole thing - or just ends it - rather than adding a twist or memorable last line.

Here's an excellent contribution from Louis Simpson called


Ed was in love with a cocktail waitress,
but Ed's family, and his friends,
didn't approve. So he broke it off.

He married a respectable woman
who played the piano. She played well enough
to have been a professional.

Ed's wife left him...
Years later, at a family gathering
Ed got drunk and made a fool of himself.

He said, "I should have married Doreen."
"Well," they said, "why didn't you?"

Not that the book isn't without its great poems... after all, it includes "This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams and "Let Evening Come" by Jane Kenyon.

It's just on the side of really good. Comforting without being smug. Real without giving you nightmares. Full of the variety - and therefore the glory - that are the poems around us everyday.

There are 19 themed chapters, each with 5-30 poems, so the book seems to read with a little better pace, like a novel. There's a full biography of each poet in the back, with Garrison's comments, important dates and achievements, and well-chosen quotes.

Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hass, William Stafford and Donald Justice are some of the poets that come out of this book looking particularly good. Inevitably there are strong poets that get left out, like Jack Gilbert, Dorianne Laux and Larry Levis.

But I'll forgive Keillor the omissions that would have added even more variety, creativity and depth to this volume. I will pull it out often and read a new favorite poem. I will cherish a genre that continually leaves it's deep, telling, life-giving marks.
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message 1: by Philip (new)

Philip I may pick this up as soon as I'm done with my current poetry book. I always have mixed feelings about poetry anthologies, but my favorite poetry book is one so... there you go.

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