Poetry Wednesday: A Visit with Garrison Keillor

Garrison KeillorGarrison Keillor is a huge poetry lover and an accomplished poet himself.  His Writer’s Almanac is a treasure trove of verse,  versifiers, and thoughtful information, even if you inexplicably read it yourself instead of listening, mesmerized, as it’s all presented to you in that voice.

For weeks, I’ve been looking for text and/or a embeddable performance of his “Old Shower Stall,”, which I have on a Prairie Home Companion CD in my car and try to listen to whenever the road rage rears it’s evil head—so I’ve nearly memorized it by now.

It brings me to tears, y’all.  Hysterical, cackling tears.

Unfortunately, neither text nor ‘Tube is available, and  I’m too cheap to buy the WordPress audio upgrade.  But if you have a buck to spare, please give it a try—it’s available on Amazon and iTunes, or at your library on CD for free—it’s excellent.

But I did find his performance of “Thanks,” which I’m sharing because it’s fun and because I owe all of you thanks for continuing to drop by on Wednesdays—seriously, the stats around here on poetry days are remarkable, considering—even if many of you don’t comment much, or at least not where I can hear.  Come to think, I probably owe you thanks for that, too.

The full text can be found here, if you want to read along.

i was going to cover the rest of this post with links to various other poems by Mr. Keillor, but I found this, instead.

It’s a recital of the work of several fantastic American poets from different times and circumstances and viewpoint. Mr. Keillor is not among them, but he does share their poems in that voice, assisted by Meryl Streep, of whom you may have heard.

Full text of the poems follow, so you can follow.  Follow?

Riding Lesson
(Henry Taylor)

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying “Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle.”

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you’d
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, “See that’s the way
to do it When you see
they’re gonna throw you, get off.”

Mary Oliver

Wild Geese
(Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

James Wright

A Blessing
(James Wright)

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Robert Lax

The Alley Violinist
(Robert Lax)

if you were an alley violinist

and they threw you money
from three windows

and the first note contained
a nickel and said:
when you play, we dance and
sing, signed
a very poor family

and the second one contained
a dime and said:
I like your playing very much,
a sick old lady

and the last one contained
a dollar and said:
beat it,

would you:
stand there and play?

beat it?

walk away playing your fiddle?

John Updike

(John Updike)

I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
of the pleasures of hoeing;
there is no knowing

how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
moist-dark loam—
the pea-root’s home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
The blade chops the earth new.
Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.

Julia Kasdorf

What I Learned from my Mother
(Julia Kasdorf)

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Langston Hughes

As Befits a Man
(Langston Hughes)

I don’t mind dying —
But I’d hate to die all alone!
I want a dozen pretty women
To holler, cry, and moan.

I don’t mind dying
But I want my funeral to be fine:
A row of long tall mamas
Fainting, fanning, and crying.

I want a fish-tail hearse
And sixteen fish-tail cars,
A big brass band
And a whole truck load of flowers.

When they let me down,
Down into the clay,
I want the women to holler:
Please don’t take him away!
Don’t take daddy away!

Wendell Berry

The Wish to Be Generous
(Wendell Berry)

All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the seed
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.


12 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: A Visit with Garrison Keillor

  1. I like the poems Keillor picks and I would enjoy Writer’s Almanac but for that voice, oh, that voice, the nose noise, and the tooth whistle that goes with it. I can’t take it

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