'Things always dwindling to just the two of us, a crumpled cigarette, a distant car'

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Although this poem by Patrick Phillips, from American Poetry Review, is dedicated to a person we don't know, 'For Paul' conveys feelings we've all experienced. We don't need to know who "Paul" is. The poem is about sadness and resignation, and all of us have felt like this. The poet's most recent collection of poems is Elegy for a Broken Machine, published by Knopf.

 

FOR PAUL

by Patrick ...

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American Life in Poetry

'He tapped once at the ash, which began to drift into that moment already behind us'

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If at times your world seems flat and uninteresting, I recommend making a cardboard viewfinder with a postage-stamp sized window. Then look at what's around you through that. I think you'll be pleased and surprised by how much you can see when the rest is pushed outside of the frame. This poem is fr...

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American Life in Poetry

'The rapid clatter giving place to the slow click'

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We reprint poems by living Americans, about American life, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the many beautiful and moving poems written by American poets no longer with us. Robert Francis ...

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American Life in Poetry

'My face remained nearly dry, as was the gas tank when he finally returned'

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I once wrote of Marge Saiser's poetry that she writes better poems about love than anyone I know. In this poem the love is standing off to the side, looking on, but it's there. Marge Saiser lives in N...

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American Life in Poetry

'The grass, the empty sky, the wish for water'

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Let's hope that by the time this column appears all fires in California have been extinguished. I wanted to offer you a poem that shows us what that beautiful but arid state can look like before it's ...

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American Life in Poetry

'I listened to the sound of southern women's voices expressing disbelief'

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There are so many delightful poems by Faith Shearin that it can be difficult to select just one to show you. This one is from her sixth book, Darwin's Daughter, published in 2017 by Stephen F. Austin ...

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American Life in Poetry

'We all lose something, though that day I hadn't lost a thing'

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Lately I've been worried about the welfare of a young groundhog who lives under our front deck. His back legs won't support him and he drags them behind. This poem has been a good lesson for me. That ...

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American Life in Poetry

'I must have brought their home inside for fuel, heating my small house'

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This column has often emphasised the importance of poetry that notices what's right under our noses, and this poem by David Mason, the former poet laureate of Colorado, who is currently living in Tasm...

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American Life in Poetry

'The garden still waiting for whatever might come'

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If you've ever been released at last from a lengthy illness you know that the world can look different, strangely illuminated. Here's a poem about that kind of awakening by Judith Harris, who lives in...

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American Life in Poetry

'The shout across the garden to say another flower is about to break'

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The following poem by James Davis May, published in 32 Poems Magazine, has a sentence I'd like to underline, because it states just what I look for in the poems I choose for this column: "We praise th...

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American Life in Poetry

'May your twin thoughts spiral upward like leafy vines'

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I am often asked if I know of a good poem to be read at a wedding, and here's one by James Bertolino, from his new and selected poems, Ravenous Bliss. Bertolino lives in Washington state and I have be...

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American Life in Poetry

'Their hooks sunk deep into the bare skin of a sweating back'

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I’m afraid that if I’d asked my grandparents what the past was like they’d say it was “hard,” and that would be it. But Megan Arlett is privileged to have a grandmother who knows how to enchant us wit...

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American Life in Poetry

'Decide whose cry it is tonight, which girl to lift, to whisper or hum, which lullaby'

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Here’s a fine poem about a loving, attentive father, by Elise Hempel, who lives in Illinois. Notice how deftly she’s placed her rhymes so that we scarcely notice them as the words flow on. Ms Hempel’s...

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American Life in Poetry

'Each to his task in the quiet of the long familiar'

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When I was a nasty little kid I once made fun of a girl in my school because her father worked cutting up dead animals at a rendering plant.My mother sat me down and said: "Ted, all work is honourable...

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American Life in Poetry

'A decision any mother might make upon guessing the intentions of the state'

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Austin Smith lives in rural Illinois and is an acute observer of the world at hand.This poem is from his book Flyover Country, published by Princeton University Press.

 

CAT MOVING KITTENS

by...

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American Life in Poetry

'It is lost, hiding somewhere out back'

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I don't suppose there are many of our younger readers who have started to worry about the possibility of memory loss, but I'd guess almost everybody over fifty does. Peter Schneider lives in Massachus...

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American Life in Poetry

'The dogs, I note, are smaller, the owners less ferocious'

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Ibbetson Street is a journal that comes out twice a year and does a fine job selecting its poems. I like this one by Kenneth Lee, a gynaecological pathologist in Boston, whose most recent book is Grav...

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American Life in Poetry

She meant to go places in it: camp in its back seat and cook on its stove

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How many of our mothers set aside what they wanted to do with their lives and chose instead to make good lives for us? This poem is from Faith Shearin's sixth book, Darwin's Daughter, published in 201...

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American Life in Poetry

'The real story always begins at the third door'

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I was very sorry to read that the literary journal Field, with a long history of publishing the finest of American poetry, was ceasing publication. All good things must come to an end. Here's a poem f...

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American Life in Poetry

'Even then they looked alive, survivors with no sickness to survive'

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There's a lot of very wordy poetry these days, but here is a poem of only around 120 words in which every choice is necessary. I recently accepted another poem by Caitlin Doyle, who lives in Ohio, and...

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American Life in Poetry

'A racquet whisked through the air like a wand'

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There's nothing that can't be a good subject for a poem. The hard part is to capture something in such a way that it becomes engaging and meaningful. Here's a poem from the summer 2018 issue of Rattle...

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American Life in Poetry

Today's my turn to hold the joy, hers the sorrow

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I like this poem for the way it portrays the manner in which we study the behaviour of others and project our own experiences onto their lives. It's the second poem we've published by Jeanie Greensfel...

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American Life in Poetry

'We ran down the aisles between snapping sheets that wanted to put us in our place'

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Ezra Pound commanded America's poets to "make it new". And here's a good example. Has there ever been another poem written, and written beautifully, about children playing among laundry drying on a li...

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American Life in Poetry

'Maybe the ghostly face in the window staring back at him'

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Perhaps you've seen miniature portraits enclosed in lockets. Well, here's a little portrait enclosed in the pages of a chapbook by Pennsylvania poet Paul Martin called Mourning Dove, from the Comstock...

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American Life in Poetry

'The storm looked alive, yellow and green at the fringes'

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Is it worse to live in a city where you can't see a big storm coming until it's right on top of you, or to be out on the plains where you can see it coming for almost too long? I like this long look a...

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American Life in Poetry

'What if I just sat there? she asks. It's a free country, I tell her'

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One of the many challenges in life is in knowing where you're supposed to sit. I slid into the wrong pew at a funeral 40 years ago and still smart from the hard looks I got. Here's a church pew poem b...

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American Life in Poetry

'Her lower lashes curl in toward a view that's hers alone'

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Pauletta Hansel lives in Cincinnati, and today's poem is from her book Palindrome, from Dos Madres Press in Loveland, Ohio. It's a collection of poems about her mother's dementia, and although there h...

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American Life in Poetry

'An imagination problem like the time friends said we must be very happy'

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One of my many peculiarities is a fascination with deserted places, especially old houses, and I've written far too many poems about them. But that doesn't mean that I don't love it when others take o...

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American Life in Poetry

'In April I will walk out across the warming grass and right the chair'

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John Stanizzi is a poet living in Connecticut, whose work we've published before. His most recent collection of poems is Chants, from Cervena Barva Press. Our column has published a number of poems ab...

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American Life in Poetry

'There we are in our lives as if we had all time'

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Marge Saiser, who lives in Nebraska, is a fine and a very lucky poet. With the passing of each year her poems have gotten stronger and deeper. That's an enviable direction for a writer. This poem was ...

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American Life in Poetry

'In here, the water moves behind the glass'

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Liz Ahl was once a very talented graduate student in our creative writing programme at the University of Nebraska, but she's long since moved on to teach at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire....

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American Life in Poetry

'All week, I ran a fever that wouldn't break'

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Caitlin Doyle, who lives in Ohio, writes haunting, memorable poetry about the familiar and the strange. Her poetry is a fine example of what I call strategic artistry, as if her words have been carefu...

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American Life in Poetry

'Staring down silver and crystal that would dare move'

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There are so many fine poems in Richard Robbins' new and selected poems, Body Turn to Rain, published by LynxHouse Press, that I had a difficult time choosing one to show you. This one, though, with i...

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American Life in Poetry

'An Iago lie of pernicious intent, layer upon layer of dark deceit'

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I've had my eye on Americans' obsessions for more than 70 years and I can't remember a time when public lying got as much attention as it does today. Attention yes, but consequences, no. I recently ha...

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American Life in Poetry

'I pawed away from the trunk, fumbled, and took my first step toward not returning'

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A child at a school bus stop, on his way out into the world, a fine subject for a fine poem by Dante Di Stefano, who lives in Endwell, New York. Might we all live out our days in a place called Endwel...

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American Life in Poetry

'Prophecy, the warning of what yet's to break out'

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The glaciers that flattened my part of the world made their exit aeons ago, but in Alaska, where Peggy Shumaker lives and writes, they're just now beginning to turn back. Only deep in a Nebraska snowb...

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