Bringing Poetry to (Real) Life

As any English major will tell you, one of the joys of studying literature is that it provides one with plenty to read. Of course, I’ve found that this often means I have little time to explore anything beyond the syllabus once the school year kicks off. Consequentially, I find myself seduced by various literary journals and the minimal time commitment that comes with them, perusing Quimby’s for the quick read I need only to find the hole in my pocket isn’t concealing a hidden cash stash.  So, when its time to pay the bills and it comes down to the cost of a literary zine or a light to read it by, Ted Kooser is there to help!

As U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004–2006, Ted Kooser not only has a good eye for quality poetry, but his tastes reveal a tendency towards poems that are attentive to the elements that make up our day to day. It’s fitting then that the title of Kooser’s column is American Life in Poetry. Made possible by the Poetry Foundation, the Chicago-based publisher of Poetry Magazine, American Life in Poetry features the works of poets from across the 50 states. The brief poems, rarely hitting 50 lines, offer snapshots of life, even while the topics—grief, nature, family, war—are full and deep. This tendency is evident in the title of the poems that still stick with me today, poems like “The Thrift Shop Dresses” (Frannie Lindsay, Massachusetts), “Eating Them As He Came” (Christopher Todd Matthew, Virginia), “The Yellow Bowl” (Rachel Contreni Flynn, Illinois), and “Yard Work” (Don Thompson, California). Also, the poems often draw upon American experiences, both old and new, with James Doyle (Colorado) telling of his great-grandfather’s trek to Omaha in “Love Story” and Jane Varley’s (Ohio) “Packing the Car for Our Western Camping Trip.”

Although this column appears in publications across the U.S., it is also available for free as an email subscription, making it the ideal resource for reading-weary, poetry-hungry students. The emails are not overbearing, appearing a modest two or three times each month, and the poetry, as mentioned previously, tends to be short and sweet, making a visit to the American Life in Poetry website a worthwhile trip.