Good Poems

ISBN: 0670031267
ISBN 13: 9780670031269
By: Garrison Keillor

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About this book

Every day people tune in to The Writer's Almanac on public radio and hear Garrison Keillor read them a poem. And here, for the first time, is an anthology of poems from the show, chosen by the narrator for their wit, their frankness, their passion, their "utter clarity in the face of everything else a person has to deal with at 7 a.m."The title Good Poems comes from common literary parlance. For writers, it's enough to refer to somebody having written a good poem. Somebody else can worry about greatness. Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" is a good poem, and so is James Wright's "A Blessing." Regular people love those poems. People read them aloud at weddings, people send them by e-mail.Good Poems includes poems about lovers, children, failure, everyday life, death, and transcendance. It features the work of classic poets, such as Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost, as well as the work of contemporary greats such as Howard Nemerov, Charles Bukowski, Donald Hall, Billy Collins, Robert Bly, and Sharon Olds. It's a book of poems for anybody who loves poetry whether they know it or not.

Reader's Thoughts


Emily Dickenson wrote, "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?"Very few of the poems in this collection would meet these criteria for me. Ok, so I didn't read every poem; I got about 3/4 of the way through. And I guess I didn't pay enough attention to the title: these are good poems, but I wouldn't call most of them great poetry.Granted, Keillor states in the intro that he wants to make poetry more accessible to people who think they don't like poetry because they were frustrated and confused by e. e. cummings and T. S. Eliot in high school. But I like cummings and Prufrock (though I could do without The Wasteland). So there.

Julian Emerson

I have just started this book, and the introduction alone makes me give it a 5 star rating. When an introduction quotes Bukowski, "There is nothing wrong with poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand. Genius could be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way." Then this, "Why do English teachers offer their prisoners so much Cummings and no Bukowski? Why to standard anthologies include one and never mention the other? Because one of them went to Harvard and had fine manners and lived in the village,around the corner from the publisher, and the other was a day laborer and roughneck who lived in L. A. and had bad skin and looked like a gargoyle, that's why." After an introduction so strong I was nervous the selection of poetry would be a let down. This is not the case. I have regained my liking, would not say love, of poetry.

Phil Call

I actually acquired and read this collection after reading its sequel, Good Poems for Hard Times. Both compilations are excellent and are taken from the editor's (Garrison Keillor's) radio program, The Writer's Almanac, where he reads a bit of history and a poem each day.I love how poems have the power to capture a thought and/or emotion in a split second, freeze it, and provide language that serves as a microscope as well as a telescope, to either see that thought/emotion more closely - infinitely closely - or to see it from afar in a broader context.Here's the link to a good one: Orange by Wendy CopeAt lunchtime I bought a huge orange—The size of it made us all laugh.I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—They got quarters and I got a half.And that orange, it made me so happy,As ordinary things often doJust lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.This is peace and contentment. It's new.The rest of the day was quite easy.I did all the jobs on my listAnd enjoyed them and had some time over. I love you. I'm glad I exist.

Mary Hackett

Love Garrison Keillor's perspective on what qualifies as a "good poem"--"these are poems that made people stop chewing their toasted muffins and turn up the radio and listen and later zip into our website and get the dope on the poet." These poems all appeared on NPR's Writer's Almanac--and there wonderful. Some duds, but mostly "good"--i.e.,Thomas Lux's poem, stopped me chewing, too. In fact, many of them did. I'll be pulling out this book every day for moments of good poems and heading to the interet to get some more "dope."Here's a bit from Thomas Lux's The Swimming PoolThe Swimming PoolAll around the apt. swimming poolthe boys stare at the girlsand the girls look everywhere but the oppositeor down or up. It isas it was a thousand years ago: the fatboy has it hardest, hetakes the sneers,prefers the winter so he can wearhis heavy pants and sweater.Today, he's here with the others.Better they are cruel to him in his presencethan out. Of the five here now (three boys,two girls) one is fat, three cruel,and one, a girl, wavers to the side,all the world tearing at her.As yet she has no breasts(her friend does) and were it notfor the forlorn fat boy whom she joinsin taunting, she could not bear her terror,which is the terrorof being him. Does it make her happythat she has no need, right now, of ingratiation,of acting fool to salveher loneliness? She doesn't seemso happy. She is likethe lower middle class, that fatal grouphanded crumbs so they can drop a fewdown lower, to the poor, so they won't killthe rich. All aroundthe apt. swimming poolthere is what's everywhere: forsakennessand fear, a disdain for those beneath usrather than a rageagainst the ones above: the exploiters,the oblivious and unabashedly cruel.

Shirley Showalter

I've been using this book in my meditation practice. I love reading a few poems in the morning. I read it along with other spiritual texts before meditation. Garrison Keillor has done more to promote poets and poetry than almost anybody else I know. I especially appreciate the contemporary voices in this book. In school, we read dead poets.In poetry journals, if we read them, we may get overwhelmed by lack of discrimination or too many competing cultures and the difficulty of creating an aesthetic and then choosing the "best" poems. I am happy to let Keillor locate "good" poems without worrying what is best.I have a rural, religious, background that is similar enough to Keillor's that I feel his choices to be accessible and comfortable. Others may want edgier voices.

Vicki Curtis

Loved reading these poems. Did not read them all, though, so need to get the book so I can finish them!

Lynn Doiron

There is not much I enjoy more on radio than the five minutes alloted to Garrison Keillor mornings and afternoons for Writer's Almanac. I like the born on this day and/or died on this day short bios he offers and I love the poems he reads from about anywhere in recorded time. Good Poems is a collection of Keillor's choices. I do not automatically fall in love with every selection. It could be that sometimes it is the voice, Keillor's voice on the radio that brings life to the lines, makes the words, each word, stand a little taller or lean a little lower than they are capable of on the page . . . BUT I do fall for the great majority of GK's selections. Wonderful, that's my final take on the book. Full of wonder from varied and wondrous voices across time.

Brandon Leighton

I've never been a big fan of poetry, but I feel like I should be since I'm an English teacher. The trouble is, how do I make up for so much lost time after I've basically ignored poetry for most of my life? Well, this book was just what I needed! It has a good sample of poets from across the literary spectrum (classical, modern, postmod, high brow, low brow). I still feel like I need to read more, but at least now I can quote a few lines at dinner parties. Oh, wait. No one ever invites me to dinner parties. Okay, well I'm ready to go when I do finally get invited.

Kylin Larsson

This book has a lot of variety. Plus, since Keillor selected the poems, I'm hearing all the poems in his voice from his show on NPR.


Finally finished this, some 3? 4? years after Dan, a regular at my old restaurant gave it to me to encourage my interest in poetry. Clearly, his efforts did not succeed too well, as it has taken me all this time to finish the collection which, by happy coincidence, I began reading again before a friend wrote a sonnet for me, but it isn't due to a lack of interest in poetry per se. I own and love several collections of poetry by Ted Hughes, Stephen Dunn and Margaret Atwood (and have a collection of Philip Larkin's waiting,) but so much poetry, even the "good" stuff is awful and unreadable. While this book that I'm reviewing has, on the whole, poetry I enjoy, it still has the odd verse or two that makes me go into skim mode, which is not the way to be when you're trying to enjoy poetry.Overall, it's a good selection, but I think it's more of a starting point for the novice to find poets they'll enjoy as opposed to a collection that stands out as something truly good on its own. It did really, really make me want to re-read Dunn's Pulitzer-Prize-winning "Different Hours" though, which is an OUTSTANDING collection of poetry. It also makes me regret somewhat that I don't own any Billy Collins, though I've found the two selections of his in this book to be my favorites of his works by far.

Elise Barker

I used this book in my college Introduction to Literature course this semester. It was a very successful class in my opinion. We met on Tues /Thurs and every Tuesday we read 5-8 poems from one of Keillor's chapters (Thurs was our fiction day). His selections were ideal for getting uninterested students engaged with poetry, and I think the chapter themes helped to get the students to think about the poems critically. His selections are mostly contemporary - post 1900s - and it would have been nice to include a few more older works on the syllabus for the sake of diversity, but ultimately my goal in an intro to lit course is to make the case to my students that incorporating literature into their lives will enrich their day to day experiences, and I do think his more contemporary choices make that case better than a bunch of Donne or Keats would. As a side note, none of them had ever heard A Prairie Home Companion (thank you internet!) and loved to make fun of the artsy-fartsy picture of Keillor on the jacket cover.

CJ Bowen

Really enjoyable collection, although for a long stretch beginning at "Failure" and extending through "The End" there is a bleakness that is only rarely broken up. Some favorites include Philip Appleman's "O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie", Steve Scafidi's "Prayer for a Marriage", Sharon Bryan's "Sweater Weather", and Grace Paley's "Here".

Luke Schrader

Before I realized that Garrison Keillor was, in fact, the same man whose voice was Sam Spade's, I bought the book whimsically believing that Garrison Keillor was just another poet whom I knew nothing of. But, oddly enough, Keillor's primary roles in the book are not to share his poetry; the anthology of poems was merely selected and introduced by Keillor. In my opinion, the amenities of poetry could not have been honored in a better fashion than Keillor's take. Alluding to history's greatest and most famous poets with such unique and amiable reverence, Keillor delineates and defines poetry with a profound refinement. His occasional expletives become rather imposing, but his metaphorical genius in describing poetry as a vital aspect of life renders any slight annoyance unnoticeable. As for the poetry selections themselves, perhaps they leaned toward the unimaginative side. Of course, poet paragons such as Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Robert Frost were included in the inspirational montage, but a plethora of rude, modern, and uncouth poets drowned the voices of the poetical giants. If you are an avid reader of contemporary poetry or can appreciate digressive and abstract free verse, I would recommend this book to you. However, if you are seeking an abundance of pithy, intricate analogies or piquant, enticing limericks, I would advise instead of investing your money in this anthology, print out a small selection of works by Whitman, Frost, and Dickinson- it would be equivalent to the exorbitant pile of try-hards and wannabes within this book.


What a great anthology! There are poems in here for just about every mood and situation which you could encounter. As a Keillor fan, I can imagine him reading these. The public radio station to which I listen does not carry The Writer's Almanac, so I have never heard him read any of this poetry, but when I read them, it is Garrison's voice I hear in my head.Divided into 19 sections, Good Poems touches on all manner of topics. From iceberg lettuce to the nature of the divine, from poetry readings to bodily excretions, from the delights of making love in a pile of leaves to old age and youth and so much more, it's all here. The range of poets Keillor selected is equally wide ranging. From Kenneth Rexroth to Emily Dickinson, from Shakespeare to Anne Sexton the list goes on.I keep my copy in one of my motorcycle saddlebags as emergency reading in case I find my self waiting at an appointment. I know I can open it anywhere at random and immediately be transported away into another world, and I enjoy the unpredictabilikty of not knowing where it will be.--Mark Pendleton


Good Poems is an accurately titled book. It is a thematically arranged anthology of poems that have been featured on The Writer's Almanac. Keillor divides the collection into categories such as "O Lord," "Lovers," "Yellow," and "The End." I really liked this organization.What I liked most about this collection was that almost all of the poems are easily accesible to any reader. Although there are also a couple of selections from William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson appears the most of any author, Keillor favors contemporary poets writing about contemporary subjects. Most of the poems are short, too, and that was another plus, I thought. And if a poem doesn't grab you, just turn the page and there's another one to catch your eye.I think almost everyone would understand most of the poems, and everyone will find more than a few poems they really like. I dog-eared the pages of the poems that really struck me, and I look forward to rereading them some time soon.

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