Reviews for Good Poems

Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 August 2002
/*Starred Review*/ No false advertising here; just, as compiler Keillor says, good poems, written accessibly in common language by English-language writers, including a preponderance of twentieth-century hands but also Shakespeare and the bard who chanted the good old ballad "Sir Patrick Spens." Keillor originally chose them to read on his five-minute radio spot, The Writer's Almanac, and selected the poems for being memorable as well as recitable. It is astonishing how sound his judgment is. Poem after poem is as good as, and sometimes even better than, its predecessor. Keillor presents them in 19 topical sections, from "O Lord," made up of prayers sincere and satirical (one of the latter is Thomas Lux's book-opener, "Poem in Thanks," which concludes "Lord, thank you / for the goddamn birds singing"), to "The Resurrection," whose reverent contents are sometimes less Christian than the section title suggests (see "Here" by Grace Paley). That Keillor doesn't shy away from religious feeling is one virtue of the anthology, and his inclusion of vulgarity and earthiness is no vice, though occasionally it seems amazing that he spoke a particular poem in the staid medium of radio. Perhaps the one quality that obtains throughout is homeliness, not in the sense of ugliness but in that of domesticity; even the journeys pondered in the section called "Trips" are neither far away nor exotic. These are poems to live in comfort with all one's life. ((Reviewed August 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews

BookPage Reviews 2002 December
Books for the studious and the scholarly

Are you struggling to summon gift ideas for the intellectual in your life? If so, you can un-furrow your brow starting now. This holiday season, let BookPage help you shop for the studious and the scholarly—those lovers of learning who emerge from their erudite pursuits hunch-backed and bleary-eyed but triumphant.

In anticipation of your Christmas quandary, our industrious editors closeted themselves with publishers' catalogues and unearthed the following quartet of titles, each of which should be pleasing to the academician on your list.

Show what you know

A word of wisdom to the aspiring litterateur: Never enter into a conversation unarmed. Your best defense is Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (Little, Brown, $50, 1,472 pages, ISBN 0316084603)—a veritable arsenal of razor-sharp repartees and potent turns of phrase. Now in its 17th edition, the newly revised anthology of famous prose and verse quotes, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Justin Kaplan, has become one of the world's most treasured references.

The origins of this indispensable volume date back to 1855, when Cambridge, Massachusetts, bookseller John Bartlett released A Collection of Familiar Quotations—a compilation of smart sayings and their sources. That humble compendium has since evolved into a comprehensive source of outrageous remarks, classic literary passages and unforgettable pronouncements. International in scope, the new edition includes material from more than 25,000 notables (Princess Di, Bob Dylan and MLK, to name a few) and offers quotes from contemporary cultural arenas such as music, television and movies. The volume is revised every 10 years, so now's the time to untie your tongue. Let Bartlett's help you show what you know.

The beloved Bloom is back

With his Falstaffian girth and formidable reputation as a cultural critic, Harold Bloom is a scholar who does nothing on a small scale. His new book, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (Warner, $35.95, 832 pages, ISBN 0446527173) is a milestone of research and inquiry, a broad-minded examination of the nature of genius and how (and in whom) it has manifested itself during the centuries.

Through evaluations of classic literary works—the poetry of Shelley, the drama of Ibsen, the fiction of Tolstoy—Bloom examines the forces that have shaped the great writers of every era, as well as the qualities shared by each author. "The study of mediocrity, whatever its origins, breeds mediocrity," he writes. Thus, this collection—a kaleidoscopic look at a group of superior individuals that blends biography with literary criticism. Author of The Western Canon and How to Read and Why, the best-selling Bloom has assembled a fascinating exhibit of remarkable intellects. Genius is inspiring, accessible and provocative—a generous survey that will enlarge the reader's comprehension of art, as well as his understanding of the role of the creative mind throughout history.

Keillor plugs poetry

One of America's most esteemed humorists and radio personages has put together a treasury of verse that's sure to delight any lover of words. Garrison Keillor, the man behind the popular NPR spot The Writer's Almanac, has compiled Good Poems, a collection that's broad in scope and full of the unforgettable imagery and skilled craftsmanship that make a poem, as the title puts it, good.

Divided into categories like Music, Lovers, Failure, and Sons and Daughters, the volume offers a poem for every occasion. A who's who of literary lights, the index lists works by top-notch contemporary authors like Galway Kinnell, Billy Collins and Sharon Olds, as well as venerable favorites such as Emily Dickinson, W.H. Auden and William Butler Yeats. "To be interrupted mid-stampede by a beautiful thing is a blessing indeed," Keillor writes of the force of poetry. The genre may be overlooked and underrated, but there's no denying its power. Poets, it can be argued, are prophets, and Keillor's collection reflects their ability to bolster our spirits and lighten our hearts.

The best in books—for little readers

A terrific gift for those interested in raising little readers, The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, $28, 542 pages, ISBN 061819083X) is the literary equivalent of a Leonard Maltin movie guide—comprehensive, easy to use and instructive. Compiled by Anita Silvey, former editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine, who has written and published children's literature for three decades, this practical volume, also available in paperback, is packed with info on all the best authors, illustrators and titles.

With more than 475 listings, The Essential Guide covers the top books of the past century and includes profiles of beloved writers, from Lemony Snicket to Margaret Wise Brown. Silvey also provides a basic reading list, contributes thoughtful and perceptive essays on genres such as science fiction, young adult novels and Holocaust literature, and examines timely themes like multiculturalism. Entries titled "Voices of the Creators," written by Lane Smith, Gary Soto, Virginia Hamilton and others, offer insights into the artistic process. An invaluable aid in selecting the best books for youngsters, The Essential Guide is a must for parents who hope to instill a love of literature in their kids. Copyright 2002 BookPage Reviews

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 September #4
Poetry is a regular feature on Garrison Keillor's NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion, but for the last five years, it has formed the core of The Writer's Almanac, a daily, five-minute, 7 a.m. show on which Keillor reads a poem. Good Poems selects 350 pieces of verse from among the thousands that have been read on the Almanac for "Stickiness, memorability.... You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan." Divided by subject-beginning with "O Lord," moving through "Day's Work," "Sons and Daughters" and through to "The End" and "The Resurrection"-the book includes work by writers past (Burns, Dickinson, Bishop, Williams, Shakespeare) and present: Robert Hass, Lisel Mueller, Tom Disch, among many others. Keillor will do a four-city tour in support of the book, and of the paperback release of his Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2003 March
Adult/High School-Keillor, host of the PBS radio show A Prairie Home Companion, has put together a collection of close to 300 poems he has read during yet another PBS broadcast, The Writer's Almanac. In an amusing introduction, he shares his thoughts on what makes a good poem. It's no big surprise that he purports to dislike literary works that, to him, smack of pretentiousness. A few selections openly poke fun at certain kinds of literature ("A Bookmark") or humorously defend humble things ("The Iceberg Theory"). Poems are arranged by 19 general themes, such as "Snow," "Failure," and "A Good Life." Authors range from well-known oldies like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost to unknowns like C.K. Williams, who "played college basketball and lived for many years in Philadelphia." A delightful section at the end of the book offers biographical sketches of the featured authors. Keillor's choices lean heavily toward works that tell a good story or paint a tangible picture. Alongside poems with bucolic scenery are plenty of selections about everyday emotions and relationships. An outstanding feature of this collection is that the selections are all so accessible-even folks who say they don't like poetry can find something here to enjoy.-Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.