Old Country Portraits

bodyturnFrom American Life in Poetry.

American Life in Poetry: Column 722
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There are so many fine poems in Richard Robbins’ new and selected poems, Body Turn to Rain (available at your local bookstore or on Amazon), published by LynxHouse Press, that I had a difficult time choosing one to show you.  This one, though, with its tablecloth trick, is one of my favorites. Robbins lives in Mankato, Minnesota, and teaches at Minnesota State.

 

 

“Old Country Portraits”

My lost sister used to try the trick
with the tablecloth, waiting until
the wine had been poured, the gravy boat filled,
before snapping the linen her way

smug as a matador, staring down
silver and crystal that would dare move,
paying no mind to the ancestor gloom
gliding across the wallpaper like clouds

of a disapproving front—no hutch
or bureau spared, no lost sister sure
the trick would work this time, all those she loved
in another room, nibbling saltines,

or in the kitchen, plating the last
of the roast beef. How amazed they would be
to be called to the mahogany room
for supper, to find something missing,

something beautiful, finally, they could
never explain, the wine twittering
in its half-globes, candles aflutter, each
thing in its place, or so it seemed then,

even though their lives had changed for good.

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We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Richard Robbins, “Old Country Portraits,” from Body Turn to Rain, (LynxHouse Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Richard Robbins and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Support Your Local Bookstore: IndieBound

9780143127550Since I admitted to selling some books through Amazon, I decided to honor local bookstores in another way by becoming an IndieBound affiliate. It’s like being an Amazon affiliate except the links bring you to a page that highlights your local bookstore or allows you to buy it online through their community. As an affiliate I get a small referral fee.

Late last year I read Celeste Ng’s beautiful book, Everything I Never Told You. It was actually one of the first audio books I have listened to. It’s a deeply felt, moving story of a family burdened by secrets and how relationships break, come together, and then break again. I highly recommend it, in print or as an audio book.

If you click the link to the book, you can buy it in print at your local bookstore or online.

Bookselling

899327638.0.mI’ve gone back to doing a bit of bookselling again through Amazon. I have mixed feelings being in league with the evil empire, but I comfort myself that at least I am not abusing their warehouse workers.
 
What I like about bookselling is that it means I am buying books (yard sales, discount stores, etc.) and thoughtfully evaluating them. I even keep some of them to read and give others away. There are worse ways to spend my time.
 
I also like that some of them end up with found objects inside. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind,” and found a couple of things with a woman’s name on them. One is a 2006 invoice to the “Radio Foundation”; it looks like she may have transcribed some things related to the “Bob and Ray” show. It also included the receipt from when she bought the book at the Atticus Bookstore in Amherst, MA in 2001 (along with a scholarly journal and two greeting cards). Finally, it included a nicely preserved maple leaf.
 
I looked her up. She’s a journalist of some distinction now, but the writer in me likes imagining the young woman buying the book, probably while she was in college, then a few years later finally getting to reading it while she juggled some freelance work. One minute she’s reading “Junkman’s Obbligato” and the next minute she’s putting her earphones back on, listening to Bob and Ray–maybe one of their “Biff Burns, Sportscaster” bits.
 
Maybe she then took a day off, hiked in the woods where she sat and read more, picked up a maple leaf, and tucked it into the book, preserving it for someone like me to come along years later and find it.

Exit Glacier, from American Life in Poetry

41v1g3LottL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_If you don’t subscribe to American Life in Poetry, I suggest you do. You get a wonderful poem each week, with brief remarks from Ted Kooser, the former United States Poet Laureate.

American Life in Poetry: Column 719

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The glaciers that flattened my part of the world made their exit eons ago, but in Alaska, where Peggy Shumaker lives and writes, they’re just now beginning to turn back. Only deep in a Nebraska snowbank can you shovel your way into the blue she describes at the end of this poem, from her new and selected poems, Cairn, from Red Hen Press.

 

Exit Glacier

When we got close enough
we could hear

rivers inside the ice
heaving splits

the groaning of a ledge
about to

calve. Strewn in the moraine
fresh moose sign—
tawny oblong pellets
breaking up

sharp black shale. In one breath
ice and air—

history, the record
of breaking—

prophecy, the warning
of what’s yet to break

out from under
four stories

of bone-crushing turquoise
retreating.

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We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2018 by Peggy Shumaker, “Exit Glacier,” from Cairn: New and Selected, (Red Hen Press, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Peggy Shumaker and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.
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American Life in Poetry provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry: American Life in Poetry seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. There are no costs for reprinting the columns; we do require that you register your publication here and that the text of the column be reproduced without alteration.

Routine

I’ve now been self-employed (again) for a year. It has been productive. I’ve had client work that I’ve enjoyed, I am back in the classroom teaching a graduate seminar in book publishing, and I am claiming back some of the time I gave up to a job and commute that often took me 12 hours a day. I am working hard still, but in the kinds of bursts and lulls that come with consulting. I have weeks when I simply don’t stop and weeks when I can mingle my work with things that need to be done at home and close to home. Today I will work into the afternoon and then rake some leaves.

One thing I have been striving to regain is certain routines. For two years (November 2014 to November 2016) I wrote nearly every day–an hour or more each weekday morning and two hours or more each weekend morning. I finished a novel that had been idling for three years and I wrote 20 short stories, five of which have been published.

Then election day happened and I have hardly written since.

So this is a good time to get back to it, don’t you think?