I decided to pick up "Good Poems for Hard Times" the follow up to the collection that has kindled my interest in poetry. I poured over the sucker looking for the pieces that speak to me, the sorts of things that we can discuss the class.. and before I knew it, I was through the entire collection... with a handy assortment of between 20 and 30 new poems to inflict on my students.
As inspiring and necessary and salt-of-the-earth as Keillor claims poetry to be, the fact that it is consumed more in anthologies than chapbooks testifies to its difficulty, its arrogance, its richness. Good poetry, like good chocolate, is best consumed in small doses, and Good Poems for Hard Times serves it up well.
Good Poems for Hard Times
Snippet view - 2005
Also, I'm not clear about what made these "Good Poems for Hard Times." I expected an uplifting collection, or maybe a "You are not alone" kind of collection, but really they seemed to be about anything and everything. Flipping it open randomly, I find a poem that reminds me of James Blunt's Song, "You're Beautiful," about instantaneous, hopeless, distant love; a poem about watching a man be unsuccessfully resuscitated; a silly little rhyme about a yak; and I remember reading some of those funny little Burma Shave ads. Why are those good for hard times? Some fit the theme, but, for me, anyway, most of them didn't.
And while Keillor has included these romantic gems in his collection, the religious experience is never far behind. In fact, the genius of Good Poems for Hard Times, is that Psalm 51 and a Jim Harrison poem (appropriately called “Easter Morning”) are alive and well in the same book. By far, the most treasured poem that Keillor has taught me comes from John Donne’s “Hymn to My God, My God in My Sickness.” Donne, who was born in 1572 to a wealthy Catholic family, converted to Anglicanism and became a priest. In the fifth stanza of this poem, Donne names the Christian life in a nutshell: