Thursday Book Feature: Splitting an Order

Splitting an Order
by Ted Kooser
Copyright 2014

The release of this author’s poetry collection coincided with his 75th birthday. Most of the poems in this collection are apparently based on observances in public places. A good example of this is the title poem, in which an elderly man is seen cutting a sandwich in half and serving one half to his aging wife. Others are about ordinary life events such as a car pulling to the side of the road and the couple in the car changing places. The book also includes a longer narrative in which the author reflects on a house where he and his wife first lived, upon learning of a murder that was committed there after they moved out.

I like Ted Kooser’s poetry because it tells a story in a manner that is straightforward and not abstract. I was fortunate several years ago to attend a writers’ conference at which he was the keynote speaker. One point he made was that a poem’s title can be used to set the scene.

This is exactly what he does with his own poems. The title tells the reader either the location of the story in the poem or what action takes place. The poem is thus written around the title.

Take, for example, “At Arby’s, at Noon.” He starts by describing a typical lunch hour in a fast food restaurant. Then, he paints a picture of a woman who is blind kissing a man with a disfigured face while life goes on around them.

For this reason, I highly recommend Ted Kooser’s work. Even if you don’t like poetry, I think you’ll appreciate the way he weaves words into stories about ordinary and not-so-ordinary events.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Thursday Tidbit: Excerpt from That’s Life

This excerpt is from That’s Life: New and Selected Poems. Click here for more information and ordering links. I wrote this several years ago after visiting my brother and his family in Florida and dedicated it to one of my nieces. Click here for a recording of me reading it.

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THAT’S LIFE

For Ana

Oh you of thirteen years,
when told you can’t go to the mall
or sleep over with a friend,
please understand that’s the way life is.
If you grow up thinking
you’ll always have your way,
you’ll be sadly disappointed
so better put on your big girl pants—
deal with it.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Guest Review–When Night Comes


Today, I’m pleased to present a guest review of an interesting collection of poems. I haven’t read this yet but hope to do so eventually. You can also read Lynda’s review on her blog, and it was published this week in The Weekly Avocet. It contains some information about Lynda’s most recent collection of essays and poems and an email address where she can be reached. Enjoy, and happy reading.

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When Night Comes

by Wesley Sims

A Book Review by Lynda McKinney Lambert

I met poet Wes Sims One Sunday morning while reading my weekly issue of a poetry magazine, The Weekly Avocet, published by Charles Portolano, featuring poetry that has a nature theme. In one particular issue, I encountered 3 Haiku poems by Sims. Each intrigued me for he presented new ways of looking at something ordinary. The poems caught my attention. Since Mr. Portolano encourages his writers to drop a note to other poets and to make friends with them, I sent a note to Wes Sims to say how much I enjoyed his poems.

Eventually, I learned about Wes Sims’ poetry chapbook, “When Night Comes,” because he sent me a copy. I’ve enjoyed reading this 28-page chapbook. It is a collection of twenty-four poems.

The chapbook’s cover is a moody black and white photo of a nocturnal landscape by the author. I thought “This is the perfect image for this collection of poems.” In addition to writing poetry, Sims likes to do photography. I found that the all-seeing-eye of the photographer is apparent in the poems, as I read through this collection. He sees and speaks of little details that might go unnoticed. It is in the description of the little things that we are brought into Sims’ world through his poems.

In “How to Use a Shoebox,” Wes Sims gives us his secret and intention for writing: “the impact of little things preserved” (p.4)

The mostly one-page poems are created by building up layers of finely nuanced accumulations. Sims is actively viewing and preserving as he writes the poems. Minute images are intertwined with his personal and private memories as he has known them in rural Tennessee.
Sims describes his world – the present and the distant or even the historical past of his rural landscapes in Tennessee. Reading through the poems brings the reader right into his family circle. This is the place where Past and Present merge. The poem becomes a confluence in which time is collapsed. The individuals he presents are not generalized people, but they are family and they are named: “grandson; grandmother; Mr. Newman; Sister; Dad; Mother; Uncle Bo; Mrs… Engle…” This gives us a feeling that we know them personally or that we have just met them even though many of the people who populate his poems are no longer in this world.
But, more than this Sims gives us a deeper understanding of life as he has known it – and we feel like we, too, have lived this life. In the poem, “Eyes to See,” he speaks of watching a blind man…

“Until one day, when I saw
Him in a church setting
Heard his lips sing out in prayer,
And received my revelation—
I was a blind man, too.”
(from “Eyes to See,” p. 24)

Through the book we see deserted old rundown barns and abandoned empty sheds; time-worn, rarely travelled roads up into the hills; and the last days of people who have passed away. No matter where we live or what our life is like, we relate to Wes Sims and his reflections on particular individuals, rural life, death of loved ones; flowers, dogs, songs, snakes, music, personal memory and history. We know that our lives are enriched by the small things and places we encounter over a lifetime. It all adds up, in the end. Unimportant and trivial things really do matter.

You can find this chapbook for sale on the publisher’s website:
Buy it at Finishing Line Press Also available on Amazon:
Buy it here! or better yet, write Wes at wes4words@att.net

Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems by Lynda McKinney Lambert, Pennsylvania artist, teacher, and author Lynda McKinney Lambert invites readers into her world of profound sight loss to discover the subtle nuances and beauty of a physical and spiritual world. She takes strands from ancient mythology, history, and contemporary life and weaves a richly textured new fabric using images that are seen and unseen as she takes us on a year-long journey through the seasons. llambert@zoominternet.net

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Celebrating All Seasons


The books I’m reviewing today contain poems, song lyrics, and prose for all seasons. Some of you may remember my review of Chasing the Green Sun back in 2012. This book is worth a second look, so be sure to scroll down and read my review.

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Julie Andrews Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year
Compiled by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
Copyright 2012.

The poems and song lyrics in this collection are divided into sections by month and season. At the end, there’s a section on other celebrations such as birthdays and welcoming newborns. Besides Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, other poets featured here include Emily Dickinson and John Updike, to name only a couple. The book includes illustrations and an index.

I enjoyed reading the poems in this collection. I knew most of the songs and ended up singing along, as I was reading the lyrics. I especially liked the Christmas section, which contains, among other things, Christina Rosetti’s poem that was the basis for “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” a song I’ve sung a few times. I wish they’d included “Twas the Night before Christmas.” This book is fun for all ages, so if you have kids, I suggest reading them the poems and singing the songs with them, especially during the time of year for which the poems and songs are written.

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Chasing the Green Sun
By Marilyn Brandt Smith
Copyright 2012

This is a collection of stories, poems, and essays written mostly by Marilyn. She collaborated on a few of them with her husband and other authors. The book is divided into twelve sections, each corresponding consecutively with the months of the year. Some of the pieces are seasonal. Others were originally published in the Behind Our Eyes anthologies and Magnets and Ladders. The title comes from an essay in which Marilyn describes how her son, born blind, perceived the moon when he was a child.

I met Marilyn years ago when I joined Behind Our Eyes, an organization of writers with disabilities, of which she is now president. It was fun losing myself in her writing. I wondered what would become of a woman in a hospital on New Year’s Eve, a victim of domestic violence. I laughed when a blind man told a policeman why he couldn’t move his van. I found her stories about her volunteer work in the Peace Corps fascinating. This is another book that can be read over and over again the whole year through.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Poetry of Mary Oliver and Ted Kooser


Dog Songs
Oliver, Mary
Copyright 2013.

It’s pretty obvious from the title that this collection of poetry and prose is about dogs. Some poems are from the point of view of a dog while others are from the point of view of a dog owner. There are blocks of poems about a specific dog. Amid the poetry is an essay entitled “Ropes.” Here, the author shares her experiences with a dog who could chew through any rope and climb any fence and loved to roam free.

I didn’t particularly care for Mary Oliver’s work until I found this book. The material here is straightforward, funny, and touching. I especially liked “If You’re Holding the Book,” in which Oliver explains that one of the things she enjoys seeing the most is dogs without leashes. It reminded me of the good old days growing up when there were few leash laws, and people didn’t have to worry about picking up after their dogs. If you love dogs, and even if you don’t love poetry, I highly recommend this book.

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Delights and Shadows
Kooser, TedCopyright 2004

The poems in this collection reflect on various aspects of life. The book is divided into numbered sections with the title of the first poem in each section being that section’s title. Some poems are inspired by paintings.

Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference at which Ted Kooser was the keynote speaker. One thing he said stuck with me. The title of a poem should set the scene.

Titles of poems in this collection, like “Walking on Tiptoe,” “Tattoo,” and “At the Cancer Clinic,” give the reader a general idea of what the poem is about. I especially liked “A Rainy Morning,” in which he describes a woman in a wheelchair pushing herself in the rain. I highly recommend this book.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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To Ana on Prom Night

It’s that time of year again, believe it or not. I was inspired to write the following poem when my sister-in-law posted a picture of my niece and her prom date. You can click on the title to hear me read it.

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TO ANA ON Prom NIGHT

You two are a striking couple,
standing in an embrace, smiling,
dressed in your junior prom finery.

Was it just yesterday
when your mother and my brother
posed for a similar photo on their wedding day?
At fourteen,
you were the maid of honor, remember?

Now, you’re growing up fast.
Before we know it,
you’ll be attending your senior prom,
then graduation, college, life
with so much ahead.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Poetry of Billy Collins

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m reviewing two collections by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. . Some of you may remember that I reviewed The Rain in Portugal last year, but I’ve since read it again, and it’s worth a second look.

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Aimless Love: A Selection of Poems
Copyright 2012.

The poems in this collection provide slice-of-life and often humorous reflections on such topics as nature, religion, and other poets. In “The Revenant,” a deceased dog talks to his owner from the grave. In “The Lanyard,” the author describes how he made a lanyard for his mother, who did a lot more for him. In “Suggestion Box,” he considers writing a poem about all the people who give him poem ideas. The title poem is about unconditional love. Some poems here are previously published while others are new.

If you’re a poet, Billy Collins might inspire you. After reading “The Revenant,” I wrote a poem in which one of our cats speaks to my father from her grave. “Istanbul,” in which the poet shares his experience with a Turkish bath, inspired me to write about a similar experience I had in a California spa run by Koreans. Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, you might enjoy Billy Collins’ work, since most of it reads more like prose, although it looks like poetry on the page.

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The Rain in Portugal: Poems
Copyright 2016.

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, writing poetry, and other subjects. In “Lucky Cat,” Collins suggests betting with other humans on the actions of felines. In “Only Child,” he longs for a sister to help care for his aging parents. In “The Bard in Flight,” he imagines what Shakespeare would do on an airplane. The collection’s title comes from the poem “On Rhyme,” in which he reflects on such common sayings as “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

I heard about this latest collection when he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. . Of course he read a few of his poems, and I was hooked. Needless to say, I downloaded the book and spent a delightful evening reading the poems aloud to myself.

According to an author’s note at the beginning, the electronic version of this book is designed so that formatting isn’t affected when the font size of the type is changed. Words at the ends of lines that are moved down when text is enlarged are indented to indicate they’re part of the same line. This didn’t make any difference to me, since I read the book in Braille, but I’m glad those with low vision can enjoy the poems the way they were written. These poems are meant to be recited, preferably by
Billy Collins, but I enjoyed reading them aloud.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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