It Could Be Verse

Reading a good poem makes you stop a moment and savor the images and emotions you just experienced.

That’s what happens to me when I read from Good Poems for Hard Times, collected by Garrison Keillor. It’s my favorite poetry book. I refer to it often, and I reread it cover to cover every few years. The Minnesota author who spellbinds us with his tales from the fictitious Lake Wobegon is a genius when it comes to selecting poems.

Divided into categories such as “Kindness to Snails,” “Deliberate Obfuscation,” and “Here It Comes,” the poems resonate with me. For example, here is the beginning of “Ordinary Life” by Barbara Crooker:

This was a day when nothing happened,
 the children went off to school
 without a murmur, remembering
 their books, lunches, gloves.
 All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
 in the square of light on the floor.
 And lunch blended into naptime,
 I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
 one of those jobs that never gets done,
 then sat in a circle of sunlight
 and drank ginger tea,
 watched the birds at the feeder
 jostle over lunch’s little scraps…

That poem launches memories of my own days as a stay-at-home mom of five. Or how about this one:

The Yak
Hilaire Belloc
As a friend to the children
 commend me the Yak.
 You will find it exactly the thing:
 It will carry and fetch,
 you can ride on its back,
 Or lead it about
 with a string.
 The Tartar who dwells on the plains of Thibet
 (A desolate region of snow)
 Has for centuries made it a nursery pet,
 And surely the Tartar should know!
 Then tell your papa where the Yak can be got
 And if he is awfully rich
 He will buy you the creature — 
 or else
 he will not.
 (I cannot be positive which.)

The combination of the rhyming, the meter, the indentations in the original (WordPress will not allow me to duplicate the formatting), and the absurdity delights me.

Drawn from works ancient and modern, serious and comic, this anthology includes poets well-known and obscure. I love the mini-bios of the writers in the back of the book, each ending with a quote:

Wallace STEVENS (1879–1955, Reading, PA) was a Harvard man, a lawyer and vice president for 20 years of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. He wrote poems on his way to and from the office, based on ideas he usually came up with on his long walks. [Note from Andrea: I get ideas for poems on walks, too!] The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens was published in 1954 to mark his 75thbirthday, and he died the following year, the same year he won a Pulitzer. “It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job.”

Who is your favorite poet? Why? What is your favorite book of poetry? Why do you like it? Share in the comments below.

Originally published at on May 17, 2016.