'What advice would she offer for life between husbands?'

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At a friend's wedding, as she stood in her reception line, an older woman leaned in and whispered, "Always rinse your dishrag in cold water so it won't stink."  Advice!  Christine Stewart-Nuñez lives and teaches in South Dakota, and the following poem capturing her grandmother's witty advice is from her book Untrussed, from the University of New Mexico Press.
 
 
 

FOR ELIZABETH, WHO LOVED T...

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American Life in Poetry

'God's eyes were stained glass, and his voice was pipe organ'

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Many of us at some hour have struggled with organised religion, maybe all night, like Jacob wrestling the angel. Here's a fine poem by Fleda Brown, from her book No Need of Sympathy. She is the former poet laureate of Delaware and now lives in Michigan. Her new and selected poems, The Woods Are On F...

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American Life in Poetry

'Bees had radar in their wings and brains that humans could barely understand'

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The University of Minnesota Press has published a fine collection of bee poems, If Bees are Few. Here's one by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, who lives in San Antonio. Her most recent boo...

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American Life in Poetry

'Feed me, feed me with the only love we know'

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I love poems that delightfully offer voices for otherwise mute things, and I like what the following cash register has to say about her life and times. This poem is from Maria Nazos' chapbook, Still L...

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American Life in Poetry

'You think you know them, these creatures robed in your parents' skins'

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Do we ever really know our parents, know what they're thinking, know why they do what they do?  Here's a poem touching upon those mysteries.  It first appeared in Field. Jon Loomis is a poet from Wisc...

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American Life in Poetry

'The fire glowed like a red eye through the furnace door'

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Marge Piercy is a distinguished poet who lives in Massachusetts. Her most recent book of poems is Made in Detroit, (Knopf, 2015). I share with her the memory of coal furnaces and clinkers, which when ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Her insistence that the hand return her to the way she was before'

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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 fierc...

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American Life in Poetry

'My arms grown taut with the thought of that wind'

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Joseph Hutchison has been writing good poems for more than 40 years, and I have been reading them for just that long. He lives in Colorado, where he is the state poet laureate, and his latest book, Th...

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American Life in Poetry

'Only the girls got to go as the boys were too wild'

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Grace Cavalieri, who lives in Washington, DC, has performed a great service for American poetry over the past 40 years with her public radio show, The Poet and the Poem. She's also a playwright and a ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Moving without sound as if charmed by the moon'

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Here's a beautiful poem evoking a vivid memory by David Mason, who teaches at Colorado College and has served his state as poet laureate. There's not one extra word in this, and every word - with that...

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American Life in Poetry

'The boys stroke their new muscles, the girls sweeten their lips'

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I'm very fond of poems in which the poet stands at a distance from whatever is going on and offers a report. This poem by Dorianne Laux, from her book What We Carry, (BOA Editions), gives us the flavo...

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American Life in Poetry

'For years we struggled to break free of the closeness of rooms'

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Last week we published a poem from Jill Bialosky's new book from Knopf, The Players, and if you didn't see it you can find it on our website. The poet is a New Yorker, an editor at WW Norton, and a da...

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American Life in Poetry

'All day we packed boxes. We read birth and death certificates'

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Jill Bialosky is a New Yorker, an editor at WW Norton, and a daughter grieving the loss of loved ones. It's unusual for us to print two poems by one poet, in sequence, but this one and the one I selec...

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American Life in Poetry

'Her beaming face, sunflower-broad, was filled with this thrill'

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I've lived in the country for thirty years and during that time my wife and I have hit four deer. All of them leapt away over the nearest fence, unharmed, leaving our cars with hundreds of dollars' wo...

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American Life in Poetry

'The flowers ... will blaze one last time and go out'

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We've published several poems from The University of Minnesota Press's collection of bee poems, If Bees Are Few. Here's one about the recent decline in the world's bee population by the distinguished ...

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American Life in Poetry

'I extract each melodic tooth and sort them in octaves for rinsing'

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Just as I prefer to read good travel writing more than I like to travel, I look to poems to offer me experiences I'm quite likely never to have. Here's a poem by Rebecca Macijeski, a native New Englan...

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American Life in Poetry

'Chipped and grubby like old friends with egg on their faces'

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Lois Parker Edstrom, a retired nurse, lives on Whidbey island, off the coast of Washington, and her 2016 book Night Beyond Black, from MoonPath Press, has many accessible and moving poems. Here's just...

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American Life in Poetry

'I extract each melodic tooth and sort them in octaves for rinsing'

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Just as I prefer to read good travel writing more than I like to travel, I look to poems to offer me experiences I'm quite likely never to have. Here's a poem by Rebecca Macijeski, a native New Englan...

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American Life in Poetry

'Trysting in the tall grasses, resting fingers lightly in tousled hair'

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Here's a poem celebrating milkweed by Bradford Tice, whose most recent book of poetry is What the Night Numbered, from Trio House Press. Our Monarch butterfly population depends upon milkweed, and per...

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American Life in Poetry

'The white feathers she began to pluck fell all around us'

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Poets are experts at capturing those moments when one thing reminds us of another. Here snow reminds Catherine Stearns of something we can imagine took place years before. Stearns lives in Massachuset...

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American Life in Poetry

'Each year he dug, bulldozed, and set fire to those determined vines'

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My boyhood home in Iowa was surrounded by honeysuckle bushes that my father sprayed with the hose on summer evenings, and we'd open the windows and have forties air conditioning, a cool damp breeze. H...

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American Life in Poetry

'Like newlyweds, my parents slip out of their clothes'

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Here's a lovely poem that imagines the afterlife by Emily Ransdell, who divides her time between Washington and the Oregon coast. This poem appeared first in The Cortland Review.




BOWLING IN HEAVEN

...

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American Life in Poetry

'With him gone the house had begun to float out onto emptiness'

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There are three and a half million of you reading this column in print and online, and I appreciate every one of you. I want to take advantage of your attention to pass along the news of the death of ...

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American Life in Poetry

'We flew through the waves, his hand guiding the tiller'

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We've used several of Elise Hempel's poems in this column, and this one is from her latest book from Able Muse Press, Second Rain. To be a child, out for a fast ride in a boat with a father, well, tha...

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American Life in Poetry

'Boys who knew when you were posing, waiting for someone to say, "smile" '

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"You can't go home again," said Thomas Wolfe, and you can't put your hand in the same river twice. Change is relentless. But we can still, in memory, go back to where we were. This poem is by P Ivan Y...

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American Life in Poetry

'I slice as close as I dare to the core'

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One of my favourite 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,...

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American Life in Poetry

'Only one hour here stiffens the barbs into thousands of quick retorts'

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Kelly Madigan lives in Nebraska and this poem is from her book, The Edge of Known Things, from Stephen F Austin University Press. Did you think that you were all that different from a porcupine? Well,...

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American Life in Poetry

'We have to seek ... for something like the beetle scuttling between grass'

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Judith Harris's poetry has appeared in this column several times. She lives in Washington, DC. Here's a meditation from her most recent book of poems, Night Garden, from Tiger Bark Press.




HOW QUIET

...

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American Life in Poetry

'I will not speak ill of Jack Flick. I will rarely look at the scar he made on my cheek'

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We're taught to never speak ill of the dead. Well, then, what do we do? Perhaps we forgive. Here's a lovely poem by Sarah White, who lives in New York. It's from her book from Deerbrook Editions, Wars...

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American Life in Poetry

'She mortally threatened, wholly unaware that I do this daily'

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The University of Minnesota Press has published a wonderful new collection of bee poems, If Bees Are Few, which may in some small way help the bees and will certainly offer some honey to poetry lovers...

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American Life in Poetry

'How strange it seemed to look down on your life from somewhere else'

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During the twelve years we've been doing this weekly column, today's poem will be the first time I've offered you a plane ride. It's just one of a number of fine poems from Patricia Hooper's book, Sep...

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American Life in Poetry

'My dishes in the sink, my brownie breakfast, my braless day'

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Here's a celebration of one day in the week, the kids with the father, a brownie for breakfast, everything right with the world. January O'Neil lives in Massachusetts, and this poem first appeared in ...

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American Life in Poetry

'You're what roof I have, frail thing, you're my argument against the whole sky'

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I recently had the privilege of editing Connie Wanek's Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems,for the University of Nebraska Press. I had been in Duluth a number of years ago, and the following poem, n...

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American Life in Poetry

'All the crazed emotions tangled up in the underbrush with us'

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There are few writers who have done more to promote the work of other writers than Grace Cavalieri, who lives in the nation's capital. She has a radio show, The Poet and the Poem from the Library of C...

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American Life in Poetry

'Whatever was in me in those days has mostly leaked away'

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I'm celebrating my 78th birthday by publishing one of my own poems. When an old guy like me is still writing poetry, he tends to write a lot of old-guy poems.



LOOK FOR ME
by Ted Kooser
 

Look fo...

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American Life in Poetry

'It took him an hour for the half mile all the way up the hill'

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Surely you've seen those Japanese scroll paintings in which tiny figures trail up the side of an enormous mountain? Here's a poem about one such life by Lucia Cherciu, who lives in Poughkeepsie, New Y...

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American Life in Poetry

'This window, it's pane-less. It's only a frame of air'

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Once the carpenter put the sash-weights into the wall next to the window, they were never seen again. Eventually they fell off the ropes and with just one loud outcry fell deeper into the dark. But we...

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American Life in Poetry

'Speaking blurred names back into the world'

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How many Oak Grove cemeteries can there be in America? There's one just a mile from my home. Here's another, with a poet, Don Thompson, to show us around. Poetry thrives on sounds as well as sense, an...

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American Life in Poetry

'Five daughters in the slant light on the porch'

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A front porch is very much like a stage, and this poem by Marilyn Nelson is like watching a little play. The poet, who has published books of poetry and prose for young and old alike, lives in Connect...

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American Life in Poetry

'He was a calm man, a useful attribute for sending young men to their deaths'

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Nearly all of us have a story about once brushing up against somebody famous. On their honeymoon my father and mother went to New York City where they rode up in a hotel elevator with the famous strip...

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American Life in Poetry

'The cranes, the grass, they tell us: this can go on for millions of years'

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Charles Peek is a Nebraska poet who lives near that section of the Platte river where early each year hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes pause in their migration to nourish themselves for the lo...

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American Life in Poetry

'Brenda wasn't listening to a word, wrapped up in lonely teardrops shed for Greg'

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Here's a poem by John Stanizzi, who lives in Connecticut, in which we get a good look inside middle-school culture in the 'sixties. But is it really any different today? This poet's most recent book i...

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American Life in Poetry

'The broken pieces, made whole again, merged into two reconstructed hearts'

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There are those like me who can't even tell when an avocado is ripe, and those who know exactly how to perfectly prepare a ripe one. Here's a poem of avocado expertise by Diane Lockward from The Uneat...

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American Life in Poetry

'How to be private and patient, how to be unbuttoned'

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The next time you open your closet, this poem will give you reason to pay a little more attention to what's hanging inside. Gary Whited is from Massachusetts and his most recent book is Having Listene...

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American Life in Poetry

'With only a smear of water to keep them singing'

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All too often poets shun simple, direct, and earthy words like "tea" in favor of others that sound more sophisticated, like Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong. But fancy words put experience at a greater d...

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American Life in Poetry

'Only she can see where she goes and track where she's been'

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Fog carries mystery within it, and here's a fine poem about a day in which a memory approaches through fog and makes itself real. Michael Lauchlan lives in Michigan and his most recent book is Trumbul...

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American Life in Poetry

'You are now only a person I may hope to meet momentarily'

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Seeing a stranger who reminds you of someone else, well, it happens to all of us. After my father died I saw dozens of little old men in hats like he wore, on their way here and there, not quite my da...

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American Life in Poetry

'One by one all the questions you ever had become clear'

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Those of you who've returned home to visit parents may recognise the way the familiar and the strange wash together in this wise and peaceful poem by Robert Tremmel. The poet is from Iowa and his most...

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American Life in Poetry

'Some trace that stays while the great body remains below out of sight'

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Marge Saiser is a Nebraska poet about whose work I have said that no contemporary poet is better at writing about love. Here's a love poem from her new book, I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, from Bac...

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American Life in Poetry

'We pull an arm's length of the sail down over itself, then do this again'

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I'm fond of poems in which we see people working together, helping one another. I've never folded a sail, nor seen anybody fold one, but here I get to watch it happen, and feel it happen, too. Alan Fe...

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American Life in Poetry

'What I want tonight is lipstick. As pure a red as I can find'

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There are times when a single word in a poem is so perfect a choice that it pops like a firecracker, and I'll let you guess which word did that for me. A hint: it's a modifier. The poem is by Anya Kru...

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