Category Archives: American Life in Poetry

My Blue Shirt by Gary Whited

American Life in Poetry: Column 621

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

“The next time you open your closet, this poem will give you reason to pay a little more attention to what’s hanging inside. Gary Whited is from Massachusetts and his most recent book is Having Listened, (Homebound Publications, 2013).”

My Blue Shirt

hangs in the closet
of this small room, collar open,
sleeves empty, tail wrinkled.
Nothing fills the shirt but air
and my faint scent. It waits,
all seven buttons undone,
button holes slack,
the soft fabric with its square white pattern,
all of it waiting for a body.
It would take any body, though it knows,
in its shirt way of knowing, only mine
has my shape in its wrinkles,
my bend in the elbows.
Outside this room birds hunt for food,
young leaves drink in morning sunlight,
people pass on their way to breakfast.
Yet here, in this closet,
the blue shirt needs nothing,
expects nothing, knows only its shirt knowledge,
that I am now learning—how to be private and patient,
how to be unbuttoned,
how to carry the scent of what has worn me,
and to know myself by the wrinkles.
 

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright© 2013 by Gary Whited, “My Blue Shirt,” from Having Listened, (Homebound Publications, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Gary Whited and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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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Planting Peas from American Life in Poetry

Lovely, lovely poem featured in American Life in Poetry today. I could read this over and over again. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The ancient Chinese poets used to say that at some point in each poem the poet ought to lift his (or her) eyes, ought to look beyond the surface of the present into something deeper and more meaningful. Here is just such a poem by Linda M. Hasselstrom, who lives in South Dakota.

Planting Peas

It’s not spring yet, but I can’t
wait anymore. I get the hoe,
pull back the snow from the old
furrows, expose the rich dark earth.
I bare my hand and dole out shriveled peas,
one by one.

I see my grandmother’s hand,
doing just this, dropping peas
into gray gumbo that clings like clay.
This moist earth is rich and dark
as chocolate cake.

Her hands cradle
baby chicks; she finds kittens in the loft
and hands them down to me, safe beside
the ladder leading up to darkness.

I miss
her smile, her blue eyes, her biscuits and gravy,
but mostly her hands.
I push a pea into the earth,
feel her hands pushing me back. She’ll come in May,
she says, in long straight rows,
dancing in light green dresses.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©1984 by Linda M. Hasselstrom; http://www.windbreakhouse.com. Her most recent book of poems, written with Twyla Hansen, is Dirt Songs, The Backwaters Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Linda M. Hasselstrom and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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First Morel by Amy Fleury #AmericanLifeinPoetry

I love the immediacy of this poem. The raw feel of it~ Enjoy!

American Life in Poetry: Column 474
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Let’s celebrate the first warm days of spring with a poem for mushroom hunters, this one by Amy Fleury, who lives in Louisiana.

First Morel
Up from wood rot,
wrinkling up from duff
and homely damps,
spore-born and cauled
like a meager seer,
it pushes aside earth
to make a small place
from decay. Bashful,
it brings honeycombed
news from below
of the coming plenty
and everything rising.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Copyright © 2013 by Amy Fleury from her most recent book of poems, Sympathetic Magic, Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Amy Fleury and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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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.

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What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use by Ada Limon

Take a look… disorderly, marvelous, ours. What a great way to cap off the week!

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American Life in Poetry: Column 445
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Sit for an hour in any national airport and you’ll see how each of us differs from others in a million ways, and of course that includes not only our physical appearances but our perceptions and opinions. Here’s a poem by Ada Limón, who lives in Kentucky, about difference and the difficulty of resolution.

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use 

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Ada Limón, whose most recent book of poems is Sharks in the Rivers, Milkweed Editions, 2010. Poem reprinted from Poecology, Issue 1, 2011, by permission of Ada Limón and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2013 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 

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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.

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Afterlife by Bruce Snider

Exceptional, must-read poem from Bruce Snider, as featured on American Life in Poetry. “the rusty nail he hammered catches me, leaves its stain…” brilliant.

American Life in Poetry: Column 435
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Perhaps there’s a kind of afterlife that is made up of our memories of a departed person, especially as these cling to that person’s belongings. Bruce Snider, who lives and teaches in California, suggests that here.

Afterlife

I wake to leafless vines and muddy fields,
patches of standing water. His pocketknife

waits in my dresser drawer, still able to gut fish.
I pick up his green shirt, put it on for the fourth day

in a row. Outside, the rusty nail he hammered
catches me, leaves its stain on everything.

The temperature drops, the whole shore
filling with him: his dented chew can, waders,

the cattails kinked, bowing their distress.
At the pier, I use his old pliers to ready the line:

fatheads, darters, a blood worm jig. Today, the lake’s
one truth is hardness. When the trout bite,

I pull the serviceable things glistening into air.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Bruce Snider from his most recent book of poems, Paradise, Indiana, Pleiades Press, 2012. Poem reprinted by permission of Bruce Snider and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2013 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

American Life in Poetry ©2006 The Poetry Foundation
Contact: alp@poetryfoundation.org
This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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"Old Men Pitching Horseshoes" by X. J. Kennedy

Happy 4th of July everyone!! Can’t think of a more appropriate topic than horseshoes 🙂 Enjoy this pick from Ted Kooser.

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American Life in Poetry: Column 432

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
One of the most distinctive sounds in small-town America is the chiming of horseshoe pitching. A friend always carries a pair in the trunk of his car. He’ll stop at a park in some little town and start pitching, and soon, he says, others will hear that ringing and suddenly appear as if out of thin air. In this poem, X.J. Kennedy captures the fellowship of horseshoe pitchers.

Old Men Pitching Horseshoes

Back in a yard where ringers groove a ditch,
These four in shirtsleeves congregate to pitch
Dirt-burnished iron. With appraising eye,
One sizes up a peg, hoists and lets fly—
A clang resounds as though a smith had struck
Fire from a forge. His first blow, out of luck,
Rattles in circles. Hitching up his face,
He swings, and weight once more inhabits space,
Tumbles as gently as a new-laid egg.
Extended iron arms surround their peg
Like one come home to greet a long-lost brother.
Shouts from one outpost. Mutters from the other.

Now changing sides, each withered pitcher moves
As his considered dignity behooves
Down the worn path of earth where August flies
And sheaves of air in warm distortions rise,
To stand ground, fling, kick dust with all the force
Of shoes still hammered to a living horse.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2007 by X.J. Kennedy. Poem reprinted from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007, by permission of X.J. Kennedy and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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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.


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"Little Girl" by Tami Haaland

another lovely pick from Ted Kooser … enjoy!

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American Life in Poetry: Column 430

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
There are many fine poems in which the poet looks deeply into a photograph and tries to touch the lives caught there. Here’s one by Tami Haaland, who lives in Montana.

Little Girl

She’s with Grandma in front
of Grandma’s house, backed
by a willow tree, gladiola and roses.

Who did she ever want
to please? But Grandma
seems half-pleased and annoyed.

No doubt Mother frowns
behind the lens, wants
to straighten this sassy face.

Maybe laughs, too.
Little girl with her mouth wide,
tongue out, yelling
at the camera. See her little
white purse full of treasure,
her white sandals?
She has things to do,
you can tell. Places to explore
beyond the frame,
and these women picking flowers
and taking pictures.
Why won’t they let her go?

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Little Girl” from When We Wake in the Night, by Tami Haaland, ©2012 WordTech Editions, Cincinnati, Ohio. Poem reprinted by permission of Tami Haaland and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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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.

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