One of my favorite morning rituals is listening to The Writer’s Almanac. When I’m working in an office, it’s the first podcast I listen to on my commute, the shortest leg between my apartment and my train station. These days it’s an over-the-tea pleasure, and Garrison Keillor has just been killing it on poem selection this month so far. I just wanted to share/save a few of my favorite pieces — I used to think I never liked poetry, despite having an English professor for a dad, but it just turns out I have not yet learned patience for reading poetry. Listening to it, however, is a joy, and Keillor, whose “News From Lake Wobegon” segment has been a constant pleasure throughout my life, is the perfect voice for it.
I’m going to be quoting my favorite bits from each poem, which is sometimes the end, so… spoiler warning? Each of these links comes with a recording embedded in it, but I’d recommend subscribing to the podcast wherever it is you subscribe to such things. It really is a nice way to start your day, if you’re a literary nerd like me.
“With Their Wings” by Jean Nordhaus
Several of these have to do with death, which is just an accident. I’m writing a couple of novels at any given time, and usually they have to do with witches or psychopomps or multiple states of being. This one will probably stay significant to me, as someone who lost her mother before I’ll have children.
For those who say the dead
have no more truck with us
are wrong. The dead are all around us
feathering the air with their wings.
They see in the fertile darkness
that surrounds this sac of light.
And in these hours we call them back
to steady us, who live in time.
“Nancy Drew” by Ron Koertge
I’m always delighted when poems aren’t so solemn, and especially when they take pop culture seriously.
Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything’s
Nancy accepts their thanks, but she’s subdued.
It’s not like her to fall for a cad.
“Music at My Mother’s Funeral” by Faith Shearin
It’s a bit harder to pry out one bit I really love in this one. It took me by surprise. This isn’t the ending, but the ending is really great.
…She got Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring stuck in the tape deck of her car and for months
each errand was accompanied by some kind
of dramatic movement.
“The Angels” by Louis McKee
This is a poem about a girl gang. How could I not love it?
Adolescence came the night
we were walking back from the playground
after all the basketball we could fit in
before dark, and a loud car pulled up
beside us, four girls, a red Mustang,
the Angels, loud, on the radio,
but they didn’t need directions, these girls,
these angels, they knew
where they were going.
“Lobsters” by Howard Nemirov
Proof to skeptical me that you really can write amazing poetry about anything. I am spoiling the great ending to this one, and the rest of the poem is much less mysterious, but you’ve got to read the whole thing. This one may be my favorite of the list.
And sometimes it happens that a mind sinks down
to the blind abyss in a swirl of sand, goes cold
And archaic in a carapace of horn,
Thinking: There’s something underneath the world.
The flame beneath the pot that boils the water.