Good Poems: American Places

Compiled by Garrison Keillor

I’ve bought every one of the poetry anthologies Garrison Keillor has put together because the ratio of poems I like to poems I don’t like is very high in this series, and I’ve found in every volume at least one poem that was worth the expenditure all by itself. In Good Poems: American Places, I found that special poem right off the bat, one called “Small Towns Are Passing,” by Wesley McNair, a poet I’d never heard of. There are several poems here by William Stafford, with whom I once had dinner. One of those poems—“The Light By The Barn”—was new to me, and it seemed just about as good as a poem can be. These are poems about American places, but nearly all of them transcend the strictly provincial. For example, Sharon Olds, one of my favorite poets, writes of the death of her father in a poem that concludes with these words: “I had not known him. My father had dignity. At the end of his life his life began to wake in me.” I didn’t like every one of the more than 400 poems collected here, and you won’t like every one of them, either. But if you don’t find at least a handful that touch your memory and grace your soul, then poetry isn’t for you.

Garrison Keillor appears Wednesday, Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m., at Laxson Auditorium.