Monday, April 14, 2008

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor has been aptly described as a "Lutheran Woody Allen." Aspects of his wry, affectionately mocking humor and his ability to represent the good hearted midwestern people of my childhood makes me smile in recognition and memory.  It was unseemly to brag, important to do good works, unthinkable not to bring a tuna hotdish to the neighbors in a crisis. My father was a choir director for 26 years, so I share Keillor's love of harmonizing and singing with choruses and choirs.  He is a masterful storyteller, and I've seen him sit on a stage for almost 2 hours weaving his way through a tale without notes, then remarkably coming back to a cohesive conclusion.  A complex, odd, painfully shy man of few words in person, his literary gifts and public radio persona provide a sharp contrast. He has written at least 9 books, but I find that his narratives are a better listened to aloud than read in private. 

Keillor has kept the art of storytelling and the oral tradition alive, according to many.  There are now numerous storytelling festivals in the country, often a delight to attend. He makes you think of the importance of sharing family stories and "psychobiographies" of family members while you can.  But what I particularly admire is that Keillor has become a vocal champion of poetry. He writes and hosts the Writer's Almanac, a brief NPR spot in which he pays tribute to writers and poets on the birthdays, ending with wonderful poems each day.  He has introduced and selected poems for two books which I highly recommend, Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times.  The first book is dedicated "To all the English teachers, especially the great ones." It includes poems by categories such as "a day" or "music" or "lovers". 

Good Poems for Hard Times is a particular gem. It includes sonnets but also moving contemporary poems around weddings, war, disappointment, loss, family issues, etc.  Copyright laws do not allow permission to print them but Booklist says "Keillor's taste is excellent...He knows good poetry."  The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans says  "If I could choose only one book to give every inhabitant of post-Katrina New Orleans, it would be Garrison Keillor's remarkable and wide-ranging collection of Good Poems for Hard Times. What a lovely, consoling book, perfect reading for these days when everyone is struggling with something...the 185 poems in this  collection do help."

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