Friday, October 26, 2012

Poetry Friday: Good Poems for Hard Times

I don't blog too much about my personal life. First of all, it's personal. Secondly, it's not all that interesting! I will say that I've been juggling a lot of work lately, including a new job, a book manuscript that's due in 2 months, and some big presentations that are coming up. It's been pretty stressful. Reading poetry is something that calms me, but I haven't made the time to do so during these hectic and anxiety-ridden early-autumn days.

I decided to remedy this situation today, so I downloaded a pretty fantastic book that I really need to tell you about. It's called Good Poems For Hard Times. It's an anthology that was edited by Garrison Keilor. I don't know much about Keilor outside of A Prairie Home Companion. And even that isn't something I'm very familiar with. But Keilor is, without a doubt, a poetry lover, and wow, can he pick a good poem (it's an aptly titled collection). Just look at what he has to say about poetry in the book's introduction...

"Poetry is about driving the nail into the pine, killing the chicken, mowing grass, putting luggage into the car, gratitude for food, the laughter of a little girl, about our common life."


"American poetry is the truest journalism we have. What your life can be, lived bravely and independently, you can discover in poetry...Nobody will ever speak to you as straightforwardly as poetry does. Nobody."


"Poetry is a necessity as simple as the need to be touched and similarly a need that is hard to enunciate."

So I turned to GPFHT the other day while riding the bus to work. I got through a total of one poem--and not because it was no good but rather because it was so good I had to keep reading and re-reading it. It was the very first poem in the book and it's called "Break of Day" by Galway Kinnell. Take a look:

Break of Day

He turns the light on, lights
the cigarette, goes out on the porch,
chainsaws a block of green wood down the grain,
chucks the pieces into the box stove,
pours in kerosene, tosses in the match
he has set fire to the next cigarette with,
stands back while the creosote-lined, sheet-
metal rust-lengths shudder but just barely
manage to direct the cawhoosh in the stove—
which sucks in ash motes through gaps
at the bottom and glares out fire blaze
through overburn-cracks at the top—

What a perfectly captured moment. And I'm an instant fan of any poem that has the word creosote in it. You can read the rest of the poem here.

What a great day for a Poetry Friday roundup, which is hosted today at Teacher Dance. Be sure to check it out!


  1. You've chosen some great quotes and a wonderful poem to share. My favorite line is the 'cawoosh' that sucks in the ash motes. I can just hear the suck of that fire. Your description of the book makes me want to get a copy. Happy reading!

  2. Keillor can definitely make great anthologies!

  3. I can see it so clearly. We own a primitive cabin in the Rockies, & this is how it sounds and smells sometimes, especially getting the fire going in the little woodstove we have. I love the little moments captured, & the small words that do that, like kerosene & creosote. Thank you Ben. I'm finally catching up with the last of the PF poets.

  4. I have this anthology, too, and love it. I haven't read it cover to cover yet, just dipped into it when the mood struck me. And I always come up with a winner!