Friday, May 18, 2007

Good Poems for Hard Times Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor

A funny thing happened at our book group last night. As I sat down on the couch, I discovered that my school bus yellow book jacket stuck out among those of dark blue. I read the wrong book! What's funny is a moment later two others came in with the same wrong book. As it worked out, it was not a problem. In fact, it made the evening better.

The assigned book was Good Poems selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor. What three of us read was Good Poems for Hard Times, a sequel with a whole new collection of poetry.

After a few laughs, Nancy, our host, read portions of two book reviews from the April 2004 issue of the journal Poetry. In "Title Tells All" Dana Gioia of the National Endowment of the Arts admires the book as "slightly subversive" and "an admirable mix of familiar and unfamiliar poems." He commends the collection for "quality, freshness, and diversity." It is okay with him that the book will appeal to many readers who usually do not like poetry. Then Nancy read from "No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please" by the poet August Kleinzahler. He suggests that American forces in the Middle East use audiotapes of Keillor reading poetry as a weapon against terrorists. The collection "isn't poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry." He complains about wholesomeness and whimsy. Kleinzahler says that Keillor's "boosterism" will sell books but do nothing to turn "the better animals in the jungle" to poetry.

Of course, being the average Midwesterns that we are, we all liked the books. We spent the evening reading and discussing our favorite selections. After Amy read "The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb" by Sharon Olds, I said that I really enjoyed it. Monique observed, "You have a daughter going off to college. That's why." She was right. I find the poem reassuring, which, despite Mr. Kleinzahler, is okay.

Poems in both collection were read by Keillor on his five-minute program The Writer's Almanac. Postcasts are available daily.

Both collection should be in most public libraries.

Good Poems. New York: Viking, 2002. ISBN 0670031267

Good Poems for Hard Times. New York: Viking, 2005. ISBN 0670034363

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