Tag Archives: “Garrison Keillor”

through the dark

I finished the book of poetry I’d assigned myself to read two years ago: a poem a day, I’d ordered. I tell those who take my novels-writing classes that reading poetry is a way to develop an ear, to improve style, and I set out to practice what I preach.

Did I read a poem every day? No, sir. But I read poems every day I could. Some days I wasn’t impressed. Some days I was awed. I highlighted any phrase which touched me, folded over pages on poems I thought were superb. What did I read? Good Poems for Hard Times, selected by Garrison Keillor. Why? Because a sad writer gave the book to me in Taos, and that felt important.

Phrases which touched me: this fervent care, this lust of tenderness…And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,/And such as it is to be of these, more or less, I am…..an apple tree/That eased itself of its summer load….the moon to a comma, a sliver of white….uniforms of snow…..I’m one of your talking wounded….I don’t feel/like that face at all…..I shall be made thy music…..through the dark the sparkling that heavens the earth……………and many, many more.

What’s next? I’ve grabbed A College Book of Modern Verse, edited by Robinson and Rideout and shall begin working my way through that. But first, I’m going to leaf through Good Poems and note what I’ve underlined, savor it. I’m hoping that somewhere inside the poetry is feeding me, moulding me, the way good food feeds and moulds a growing child.

On another note entirely, read the NY Times today. As always, its depth of story and prose style soothes me. But the stories hurt: For every soldier of ours killed, 25 die at their own hands; The population explosion in Africa…..The world is too much with us; yet we are the world.

What to do?



I’m back listening again to The Writer’s Almanac. It’s fun and heartening for anyone writing, whether that’s in a journal or something larger. In addition to reading a poem every day, the host, Garrison Keillor, always includes anecdotes about writers, how we fumble and fail, stumble on success or don’t. If you write to be published, there is an enormous amount of work that is completely unseen, that which is dropped, changed, rewritten dozens of times. Anyway, this quote was up on the site, and it touched a nerve.

Writers end up writing stories or rather stories’ shadows, and they’re grateful if they can, but is is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough.

I think it’s speaking of the gap between the vision and the finished project…….do you know what I mean? Is it always impossible to grasp the vision? An artist I know says she has learned she can’t control creativity. What do you think?


I thought I’d print the Hyacinthe Hill poem Reaching Toward Beauty from last week’s blog. I can find very little about Ms. Hill on the internet. The poem is from the book, When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple:

You love declines. You, thinking little lines

aound my eyes are fallen lashes, try

to brush them off. I do exfoliate.

In this autumn of my being, parts of me

fly, like tossed and wintry-blasted leaves.

I don’t regret their passing. I must work

to make a clean and crystal-perfect form.

I, alchemist, and I, philosopher’s stone,

have sacrificed the fat, and froth, and fur

of youth, to walk through fire, leap in the dark,

swim inward rivers, pray at a wailing wall.

The wrinkles, sags, the graying hair are earned.

You mourn like a child over a broken doll.

Only the core of this crone was ever real……….

Wow. This is what I love about poets, their ability to seize some small formation of words and make them explode in the imagination. I tell people who ask me about writing to read poetry to internalize the beauty of language. I tell them to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac on NPR, a poem a day the man reads to us, bless him. Imagine what life might be like if the first thing we heard in the morning was a poem, if we chewed on its meaning all day, instead of what we do chew on.

It was the quest of pre-scientists in the 16th century to turn lead into gold. We are the alchemists of our lives. What brew are you making? Bitter or sweet? Forgiving or vengeful?



I always tell the people who take my writing classes to listen to the Writers Almanac on NPR. You can even have its daily dose of poetry and Garrison Keillor’s commentary delivered to your email doorstep, hit a link, and hear the podcast. I tell them to listen to it because poetry is the highest writing art, requiring the perfect word and reflecting in a few lines ideas that can bring one to one’s knees. Which just recently happened. I don’t listen everyday. I think I’m too busy. But a friend of mine always emails me about poems she thinks I ought not to miss. And so I read Baptism by one Ted Thomas Jr and felt breathless when I was done because in a single sentence he captured what has happened to me around my mother. He writes in the poem of his father’s helplessness. In the last stanza, he says he “I pat him dry, he lets me dress him in the white hospital clothes, oil his hair, put him to bed and forgive him.”

Bam. That’s what’s happened in all this. I’ve forgiven the resentments I nurtured so close to my heart. In the bathing and dressing and feeding, in her shuffling daily endless need, something has dropped, but not by my insistence. There is only breathless, painful witnessing of  frailty, and my attendance upon it as best I can, some days far better than others. This last slow dance we’re in is immediate and huge. All else is nothing.