'This world my mother could trust only so long as everything was done right'

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Tod Marshall, Washington's State Poet for 2016-18, with the help of that state's humanities and arts programmes, put together a fine anthology of Washington poetry, WA129: Poets of Washington, and here's just one of many poems I liked. Sally Green lives on Waldron Island. Her first collection of poems is Full Immersion from Expedition Press. Showing someone how to do something is, I think, a fine ...

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American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry: The Girl From Panama

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Clemens Starck of Oregon has fifty years' experience working with his hands, as a merchant seaman and then a carpenter, and he knows work and working people.  Here's a typical poem, from his collected poetry, Cathedrals & Parking Lots, from Empty Bowl Press.

 

The Girl from Panama
 
I'm talk...

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American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry - Wild Creatures

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I love accounts of people meeting up with wild creatures, as in Elizabeth Bishop's great poem, "The Moose," and here's another such encounter from Sonja Johanson, who is from Maine.  Johanson's most r...

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American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry: The Appearance of Modernism

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Until about a hundred years ago, the worth of a poem was measured by how noble and elevated was its subject and its manner of delivery, but with the appearance of modernism all hell broke loose and su...

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American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry: Here and There

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Do others of you think about what you'll miss when you leave this life? For me it will be the great skies over my part of the world. Here's Emily Grosholz's take on this, from her new book The Stars o...

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American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry: The Wall

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To honor the memory of the thousands who died in Vietnam, here's a poem by Bruce Guernsey, who divides his time between Maine and Illinois, about Maya Lin's memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Wall

S...

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American Life in Poetry

'At a certain age a man can begin to say things like that to his friends'

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Some of the mannerisms of poetry that can get in the way of an everyday reader's enjoyment are elevated diction, obscure references, and a vocabulary that requires a trip to the dictionary. Here's a g...

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American Life in Poetry

'We longed to go to Virginia Beach and put our toes in the tide'

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Ruth Stone, who died at the age of 96 in 2011, was one of our finest poets. I'm especially taken with 'Lighter Than Air.'  I love it when there's an instant at which something magical appears and for ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Others around me, others by the window, silently looking out'

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In thirteen years of publishing this column we've never selected a poem about mental illness, but neither have I come upon one that feels so true. I am especially taken by the third stanza, which rema...

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American Life in Poetry

'The unspoken building up like thunderheads'

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Family life can shove one up against another, and here's a poem by Jeffrey Harrison that gets to that. It was originally published in Five Points, one of our most respected literary journals. Harrison...

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American Life in Poetry

'We will carry them home like the weight of guilt'

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There's lots of fine writing about fly fishing, from A River Runs Through It on down, but good old pole-and-bobber fishing gets short shrift.  Here's a bobber-fishing poem by P Ivan Young, who lives i...

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American Life in Poetry

'They remind us of our own hearts ... quivering in the lightest wind'

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I've never seen a frigate bird (or a frigate) but wanted to offer you a poem to prove that the hawks and crows of the Great Plains aren't the only ones that get attention in this column. Sally Bliumis...

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American Life in Poetry

'What do I have that she could want enough to risk such failure?'

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With Dorianne Laux I've shared the experience of having a bird enraged at her reflection in a window.  Laux lives in North Carolina and this is her third poem to be published in this column. Are you f...

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American Life in Poetry

'You'll see our neighbours bathed in gold'

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I'm devoted to yard and garage sales, and love to spend time with friendly strangers in scuffed front yards and oily, dim garages.  Here's a poem by Matthew Brennan, who lives in Indiana, from his 201...

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American Life in Poetry

'Their breasts and backs as dark as low bruised banks of cloud'

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I can identify most of the birds that live in my part of Nebraska, but I can't tell one warbler from the next. But Kevin Cole, in his new book, Late Summer Plums, from Scurfpea Publishing, has identif...

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American Life in Poetry

'He was at his work bench, a rich man straightening nails'

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My late friend, the poet and novelist Jim Harrison, used to tease me about the buckets of bent nails in my barn, which I planned to straighten on some rainy day but which only accumulated.  Here's a f...

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American Life in Poetry

'You pair them, two by two, you marry the socks'

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One thing I've tried to do with this column is to show off poets who do indeed write about contemporary American life, and who see deep into the ordinary parts of it. Here's a fine poem by Heid Erdric...

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American Life in Poetry

'Who has the courage to look out to the east again at someone else's sun?'

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"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" has been attributed to a half dozen different writers. It can be helpful in encouraging people to write, but also in describing poetry that arises ...

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American Life in Poetry

'The linen is there as you left it, well-ordered'

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So many contemporary poems fail for the lack of strong endings, but here's one with a masterful latch that snaps closed at the end. Tami Haaland served as Montana's fifth poet laureate and she teaches...

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American Life in Poetry

'Things come down to the pale blue or the white, or some other'

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Some of you may think that I publish too many poems about the deaths of loved ones, but poetry is a means of establishing order and form when times feel disordered and formless. Marge Saiser is a Nebr...

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American Life in Poetry

'A roll of the dice could send a girl to jail'

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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 Co...

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American Life in Poetry

'Tomorrow I will begin to try to forget'

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Poems that move back and forth through time can be intriguing.  In this poem by Pat Schneider, she looks deep into the past and evokes it in compelling detail, though the poem speculates that there wi...

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American Life in Poetry

'They die on the rug. We find them there, eyes open in surprise'

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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...

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American Life in Poetry

'How blindly we stumble ahead with such hope, a light flares briefly'

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This is the sixth poem we've published by Peter Everwine, which testifies to how much I admire his writing. How fine it is when a memory arrives from the past to surprise us into happiness. Everwine l...

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American Life in Poetry

'An otter slaps the water with his paw to feel the current's pulse'

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James Crews, now living in Vermont, was for a couple of years our assistant here at American Life in Poetry. He came to us having already won the Prairie Schooner book prize, and his poems have gotten...

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