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Classic review: Poetry collections to cherish

Short reviews of three delightful poetry collections.

GOOD POEMS FOR HARD TIMES
Edited by Garrison Keillor
Penguin
368 pp, $16


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[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on April 19, 2009.]

Good Poems for Hard Times, edited by Garrison Keillor, is a top seller nationally, and with good reason.

The book is full of strong, memorable poems that stick with readers like a friend during a long, hard night. Some of the poems, such as Mary Oliver’s “Spring,” capture an experience with such clarity and precision that everything else fades away. Others provide solace not by denying the gloom but by facing it and finding moments of light within the darkness.

Jane Kenyon’s lovely “Ice Storm” is a good example of the tone and timbre of the collection. She describes “a longing not of the body.../ It could be for beauty –/ I mean what Keats was panting after,/ for which I love and honor him,/ It could be for the promises of God.”

That longing – for connection or redemption – appears over and over, whether the setting is a hospital waiting room or a letter to a daughter. But often what readers find is a matter-of-fact resignation, as if the best one can do is endure the discomfort and bear witness to what Keillor calls “the common life.”

For seasoned readers, this clear-eyed approach may be what is needed. But for those in search of more hopeful work, Keillor’s previous book, “Good Poems,” is a better place to look.

ENDPOINT AND OTHER POEMS

By John Updike

Endpoint and Other Poems is a book readers should know, if not one they will love. The poems here, written during the last seven years of John Updike’s life, are predictable at times, especially in the first section, where he describes several birthdays and his approaching death.

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