'Did you leave with the winnowing scythe, the burning heat of August?'

We have lots of poets who would enjoy being described as “a poet first, and a (fill in the job) second", as if for them writing poems is the most important thing in their lives. As I see it, Patricia Frolander is, instead, a widowed Wyoming ranch manager, a loving mother and grandmother first, and a poet, second. I like those priorities. Here’s a poem about the loss of her rancher husband of many ...

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American Life in Poetry

'The streetlights outside flashing off one by one like old men blinking their cloudy eyes'

James Crews is the editor of a very timely anthology entitled Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection, published by Green Writers Press. He’s also an accomplished poet and the author of several books, including Bluebird. This poem first appeared, appropriately, at Gratefulness.org.

 

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American Life in Poetry

'That dove, I thought, will house his sable spirit, coat feathered like joy in the wind'

The ocarina call of a mourning dove, a woman mourning the death of a pet, and yet it all comes to looking forward to more and more life, whatever is there, wherever the mourning dove will lead her. Li...

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American Life in Poetry

'Never resting, working from sheer will and memory, working with quill and ink if need be'

Over the years I haven’t chosen more than a few poems about the writing of poetry, mostly because if you don’t write poems you might not be interested. But I do like this poem about poets by Richard J...

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American Life in Poetry

'He was down to nothing, a gypsy’s fare'

BJ Omanson was raised near the Spoon River in Illinois, site of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, and he has compiled a fine book of poems in Masters’ tradition called Stark County Poems, publ...

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American Life in Poetry

'A man trying to extricate himself, afraid to open his eyes'

Often, for me, it’s a single image that really makes a poem, and in this poem by Jeff Worley, from his chapbook Lucky Talk, published by Broadstone Books, it’s “a man conducting an orchestra/ of bees....

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American Life in Poetry

'My love, I am pledging to this republic, for however long we stand'

Jehanne Dubrow is the wife of a recently retired naval officer and has written very moving poems about their life. This fine love poem is from an as-yet unpublished manuscript. She lives in Texas and ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Going off like some lavish parade into the great overcrowded silence'

Edwin Muir’s poem 'The Horses' published many years ago, envisioned a future in which the work horse would return, and with them we’d have a new beginning. Today, some of our fellow creatures aren’t t...

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American Life in Poetry

'Any diversion from fear, which is in itself a disease'

There will be many, many poems written about these days of great fear the world is enduring, just as there were after 9/11, and I like to think this one by Richard Levine, who lives in Brooklyn, will ...

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American Life in Poetry

'As if what exists, exists so that it can be lost and become precious'

It’s not at all unusual for a poet who’s been impressed by someone else’s poem to think, “I wish I’d written THAT!” I’ve never read a poem by the late Lisel Mueller — and I’ve read nearly all of them ...

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American Life in Poetry

'All those flashy spikes waving in the wind, conducting summer’s final notes'

We’re entering a new kind of autumn. This one arrives after months and months when everything was new and strange, and offered very little but bad news for the future. All spring and summer parents wo...

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American Life in Poetry

'You say you see in me a strength that strengthens you'

I like poems that rhyme so smoothly and inconspicuously that when you get to the end and look back you’re surprised to discover that you’ve just read a sonnet, this one by Eleanor Channell, who lives ...

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American Life in Poetry

'The change she couldn't know that she had wrought merely by how her red hair caught the light'

Lovers of poetry will be pleased to learn that Louisiana State University Press has just published Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Taylor’s new and selected poems, This Tilted World is Where I Live. Some ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Now, in what seems just a few yards down the block, I'm there'

We’ve published more than 800 weekly columns to date, and soon I’m retiring as editor and part-time professor. This column will continue under my name until the end of the year, when my colleague Kwam...

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American Life in Poetry

'It’s good to be reminded every morning of the great mess, the brio of art-making'

What do we select to keep with us when someone we love has died? Here’s Gail Mazur, who lives in Massachusetts, opening her closet door to show us. This poem originally appeared in the journal Ploughs...

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American Life in Poetry

'Sometimes you have to tell a story your entire life to get it right'

I’ve read that every time we call up a memory we tweak it a little, so that in the end what we remember is mostly fabrication. Here Emily Ransdell, a poet from Washington state, touches upon this phen...

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American Life in Poetry

'When relief blossoms so sweet, so unassuming'

Twelve per cent of the population have migraines, and that’s about 500,000 of you, based upon our current readership in print and online. I hope none of you have one today, nor Barbara Schmitz, either...

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American Life in Poetry

'An older man whose gears, stiff with disuse, are leveraging his body'

SC Hahn is an American poet now living in Stockholm where, as you’ll see, it can be every bit as hard to get out of bed after an operation as it is here. You can hear the machinery creaking, can’t you...

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American Life in Poetry

'I reach out also to my sister, bereft and alone'

Maine’s former poet laureate, Wesley McNair, is one of my favourite writers. Godine has just published a touching book-length memoir, in verse, entitled Dwellers in the House of the Lord. Though it’s ...

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American Life in Poetry

'The real me just fades away, glance by glance, day by day'

When I look in a mirror, I try to compose my face so that it is at its best, but it’s a face that beyond my bathroom gets supplanted by all the more homely faces I carry out into the world. John Thorn...

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American Life in Poetry

'Learning to kill with her toes'

How much pain and anger can a good poet pack into just a few words? A lot, in this 15-word haiku by Laura Foley from her 2019 collection of poems from Headmistress Press entitled Why I Never Finished ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Her smile an invitation to join in her bliss'

I was once on Deer Isle, Maine, on the Fourth of July, and attended their own town parade. Deer Isle isn’t big enough to mount a very long parade, so they ran it past us twice, first down to the water...

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American Life in Poetry

'She told us children how the cows could sense when their calves were marked for butchering'

Now and then, I get a complaint from one of our readers saying that what we publish isn’t poetry because it doesn’t rhyme. Actually, we’ve published quite a lot of poetry with rhymes — end-rhymes, hal...

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American Life in Poetry

'The music lived in his head, the tip of his tongue'

Karla Huston was Wisconsin’s poet laureate in 2017 and 2018, and lives in Appleton. She’s published several books and chapbooks and does the good work of reviewing poetry for various journals. 'Lip', ...

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American Life in Poetry

'My dead father’s Brooks Brothers wingtips, heels worn down from running between women'

Here’s a delightful poem you can almost smell. Don’t we all know that old-shoe-plus-shoe-polish odour? I don’t remember oxblood smelling different from plain old black or brown, but Andy Roberts, writ...

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American Life in Poetry

'All his calculations secretly yearning away from algebra'

How fascinated a young person can be with the secret lives of his or her teachers. I left junior high — middle school today — more than 60 years ago but still I occasionally wonder about the private l...

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American Life in Poetry

'The busy waitress pauses, nods. She’s always known the boys'

I’ve shown you a couple of poems from the anthology, Local News: Poetry About Small Towns, from MWPH Books, PO Box 8, in Fairwater, WI. Here’s another, by Mark Vinz, who lives in Minnesota. Time and t...

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American Life in Poetry

'The many anonymous mute stones in their shade'

We’ve featured several other poems by Bruce Guernsey, who lives in Illinois and Maine. But here he is visiting Gettysburg and giving us a poem for Memorial Day. 'Naming the Trees' is forthcoming in th...

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American Life in Poetry

'Idaho russets and Yukon Golds, reds and whites and yams'

Once, as a young man, I needed a pair of black shoes to wear at a wedding at which I was to be a groomsman and after work one day I was following a truck with a flapping canvas over the open back, whe...

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American Life in Poetry

'Having been happily trained for pain, they flash their unharmed smiles'

Deirdre O’Connor is the director of The Writing Center at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and the following poem is from her new collection from Able Muse Press, The Cupped Field. I’m sticking my ...

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American Life in Poetry

'This moment before the splash of lights'

Most of the school-age athletes I know or have known would have been embarrassed to show any vulnerability, and this fine poem by Al Ortolani, from his chapbook Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the S...

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American Life in Poetry

'Let's stand by the window and look out at the light on the field'

I had to drop out of a philosophy class in college because I'd begun to think about what I was thinking about and I was getting dizzy and sick. Here's a poem by Danusha Laméris about getting relief fr...

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American Life in Poetry

'A pool of intermingled wings and bodies'

How many poets does it take to change a light bulb? Only one. Here’s a poem by Jared Carter from his new book, The Land Itself, from Monongahela Press. This is a fine example of how a talented poet ca...

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American Life in Poetry

'Every butterfly knows that the end is different from the beginning'

I'm writing this column on a summer day when a hungry crowd of Monarch butterfly caterpillars are eating the upper leaves of the milkweed just outside my door in Nebraska, and my wife and I are joyful...

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American Life in Poetry

'Each time, the found world surprises - that is its nature'

Jane Hirshfield, who lives in California, is one of our country's finest poets. I found this beautiful meditation in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, published by Grayson Books o...

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American Life in Poetry

'Though I am inclined to share, I know that opening the window will change the world'

Karen Head lives in Georgia, and possums seem to live everywhere. You may drive past a dead one on a roadside somewhere today. Here's a poem in which the poet chooses to keep a safe distance from wild...

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American Life in Poetry

'A convenience store with a bike stand, and three smoke-drenched taverns'

I’ve mentioned the anthology, Local News: Poetry About Small Towns from MWPH Books, PO Box 8, in Fairwater, Wisconsin. Here’s one of the many poems I’ve enjoyed, by Scott Wiggerman, who lives in New M...

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American Life in Poetry

'Consider me a prospector probing with my own gold'

Lest we forget our vegetables, here's a poem by James Bertolino about one of our dearest and healthiest ones. The poet lives in Bellingham, Washington, and this is from his book, Every Wound Has A Rhy...

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American Life in Poetry

'Some rituals of this good earth continue'

That sage curse, "May you live in interesting times," has been upon us for the past few years, but here a Kentucky poet, Jonathan Greene, offers us some reassurance that there is order in the world. G...

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American Life in Poetry

'Our souls have been longing to go home ... the body doesn't agree'

Robert Bly is one of the last living major American poets of his generation, and WW Norton recently published his Collected Poems. I and many other poets of the central states owe Bly, who grew up on ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Somewhere the night had accommodated him'

This week’s poem is one of my favourites and I can’t explain why in the 15 years I’ve been writing this column I’ve neglected until now to share it with you. Wendell Berry is one of our country’s fine...

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American Life in Poetry

'All day it continues, each kindness reaching toward another'

Tolstoy said, "Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness." I found this poem by Dorianne Laux in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness P...

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American Life in Poetry

'Your hand a quick tremble in brief illumination'

This is the sixth of Marge Saiser's poems to appear in my column, and I've written elsewhere how much I admire her work. This poem is typical of her clear, accessible poetry of close observation. I am...

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American Life in Poetry

'Her daylilies bobbed wide open out in the wild, blue sun'

This week and next I want to show you two beautiful poems of grief and loss by David Baker, from his new and selected poems, Swift, published in 2019 by WW Norton. Baker teaches at Denison University ...

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American Life in Poetry

'He always came back just in time for the bell'

Poets Tom Montag and David Graham have just published a fine anthology, Local News: Poetry About Small Towns, from MWPH Books, PO Box 8, in Fairwater, Wisconsin. Here’s one of the many poems I’ve enjo...

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American Life in Poetry

'You hold life like a face between your palms'

There’s a very fine book, Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, published by Grayson Books of West Hartford, Connecticut, and I’ve found a number of poems for this column there. Here’...

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American Life in Poetry

'Purple trumpet blowing high notes at the sky'

I'm a big fan of short, imagistic, haiku-like poems, and here's a fine one for the end of the year. It's by Sarah Freligh of New York, from her book Sad Math, from Moon City Press.

 

DECEMBER

...

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