“Romantics” by Lisel Mueller & Question for Readers

Note from Christy: Do you know who read this poem on Garrison Keillor’s audiobook version of Good Poems? Please see questions that follow this post:

  Johannes Brahms and
Clara Schumann

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth-century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.

Lisel Mueller, “Romantics” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.

* Question for my fellow poetry lovers:

Fellow poetry reader Bob S. asked on our post “Garrison Keillor, Good Poems, and “Bear In Mind” by John Martin if anyone had a listing of the readers for the audiobook version of Keillor’s Good Poems. (I found a partial list which I shared with Bob in the comments, but I couldn’t answer his primary question, which was…:) More specifically, does anyone know the female who read Lisel Mueller’s poem “Romantics”?

And a follow-up question: How important is it to you to be able to listen to a poem as you read along? I know many people enjoyed listening to Keillor read his daily poem choices at The Writer’s Almanac. Is that (being able to listen to poems) something that would be valuable to readers here? I sometimes link to YouTube videos of poets reading their material, but not regularly; would you like me to do more of that? Or what if I read a poem for you from time to time?

If you know who reads Mueller’s poem on the audio version of Good Poems, please let us know in the comments. And please feel free to share your thoughts on listening to poems. Thank you, friends, for your help. -Christy

Garrison Keillor, Good Poems, and “Bear In Mind” by John Martin

This site would not exist without Garrison Keillor. For it was in his book Good Poems that I first read the poem that would go on to change–and save–my life, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. His daily poem at The Writer’s Almanac was often the highlight of my day, and many of his offerings found their way here to this very site.

Minnesota Public Radio has ended distribution and broadcast of The Writer’s Almanac effective immediately.

Today is a sad day for poetry lovers.

Garrison Keillor fired for ‘inappropriate behavior’

November 29, 2017 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Garrison Keillor, whose stories of small-town characters entertained legions of public radio listeners for 40 years on “A Prairie Home Companion,” became another celebrity felled by allegations of workplace misconduct on Wednesday when Minnesota Public Radio terminated his contracts.

The homegrown humorist told The Associated Press he was fired over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.” Keillor didn’t detail the allegation to AP, but he later told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he had put his hand on a woman’s bare back when trying to console her.

“I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness, and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized,” Keillor told the newspaper in an email. “I sent her an email of apology later, and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it.

“We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

MPR said only that it received a single allegation of “inappropriate behavior” against Keillor last month about an alleged incident during his time hosting “A Prairie Home Companion.” Keillor retired as host of the radio variety show last year, but continued to work for MPR on various projects.

MPR said it had received no other complaints but had retained an outside law firm that was continuing to investigate.


On Wednesday, Keillor didn’t say when the incident with the woman occurred. In his statement to AP, Keillor said it was “poetic irony to be knocked off the air by a story, having told so many of them myself.

“But I’m 75 and don’t have any interest in arguing about this. And I cannot in conscience bring danger to a great organization I’ve worked hard for since 1969.”


MPR said it would rename the show now hosted by Thile (“A Prairie Home Companion”) and end distribution of “The Writer’s Almanac,” Keillor’s daily reading of a poem and telling of literary events. MPR also plans to end rebroadcasts of “The Best of A Prairie Home Companion” hosted by Keillor.

From AP story: “Garrison Keillor fired for ‘inappropriate behavior'” written by: JEFF BAENEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS, November 29, 2017. Full article published at SFChronicle.com

When I visited TheWritersAlmanac.org, the site was no longer there and redirected to a statement by MPR which included:

MPR will end its business relationships with Mr. Keillor’s media companies effective immediately. By terminating the contracts, MPR and American Public Media (APM) will:

* end distribution and broadcast of The Writer’s Almanac and rebroadcasts of The Best of A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor;

* change the name of APM’s weekly music and variety program hosted by Chris Thile; and,

* separate from the Pretty Good Goods online catalog and the PrairieHome.org website.

All personal opinions aside, this is a heart-breaking day for me and for all poetry lovers.

The last poem published at The Writer’s Almanac, which I have thanks to my email subscription, was “Bear In Mind” by John Martin:

“Bear In Mind”
By John Martin

A bear is chasing me through a meadow
and I’m running as fast as I can but
he’s gaining on me—it seems
he’s always gaining on me.
I’m running and running but also
thinking I should just
turn around and say,
“Stop it! Stop chasing me. We both
know you aren’t going to catch me.
All you can ever do is chase me. So,
think about it—why bother?”

The bear does stop,
and he sits on his haunches and thinks,
or seems to think. And then
the bear says to me,
“I have to chase you, you know
that. Or you should. And, sure,
we both know I’ll never catch you.
So, why not give us both a break and
just stop thinking about me?”

But, with that said, he gets back on four feet,
sticks his long pink tongue out, licks down
both sides of his snout. Then he sighs, looks
behind himself, then at me and says, “Okay,
ready when you are.”

“Bear In Mind” by John Martin from Hold This. © Concrete Wolf Press, 2017.


“Hurricane” by Mary Oliver (and how to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey)

It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
 But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

Mary Oliver,  A Thousand Mornings.

Related read via OnBeing.


Please consider supporting those affected — and those helping those affected — by Hurricane Harvey. I’ve included several links: to J.J. Watts’s YouCaring page, to the SPCA of Texas, to two NPR articles (one on the many animal rescues that have taken place, and one on the many ways you can help), and more:

How to Help:

J.J. Watts’s YouGiving Site

The SPCA of Texas – Hurricane Harvey Support

Soul Horse is coordinating efforts to rescue horses and livestock, as well as hay transport. I fell in love with Randi Collier’s facebook page and all of the photos of local cowboys taking on the “hard” or “impossible” rescues. Specific needs and how to donate (mostly need $ to cover fuel and transportation).

The Harris County (Houston, TX) Animal Shelter has an Amazon Wishlist.

This Facebook Group “Texas Shelters Donations/Supply List Needs” has several organizations’ Amazon Wishlists posted.

NPR: “Here’s How You Can Help People Affected By Harvey” (includes links to local food banks, shelters, animal rescues…)

If you cannot give money or items, please consider giving blood.

NPR: “From Hawk To Horse: Animal Rescues During Hurricane Harvey

This video from The Dodo shows some of the animal rescues mentioned in the above NPR article. (The Dodo also has an article on how to help animals affected by Harvey.):

And click to help the Humane Society’s Animal Rescue Team who have been rescuing animals from flooded homes and bringing them to safety:


Thank you we are saying and waving / dark though it is*

*with a nod to W.S. Merwin, whom you will hear more from next time. ❤


Begin Again

Poetry laid back and played dead until this morning. I wasn’t sad or anything, only restless. ~ Alice Walker

A funny thing happened during my hiatus at the beginning of the year. I began to question my need for written poetry–for words and writing in general–until I had convinced myself that I truly didn’t need it, that it was a luxury . . . a fluffy, cloud-chasing time-consumer that distracted me from living a three-dimensional life. Poetry was to be found in the natural world around me, I rationalized, in the act of living itself. I wanted to see if I could live without the words and, instead, focus on the experience.

I say it was funny, but in reality it was rather sad. What I found–and I see this now in retrospect–was that I grew flatter and more isolated; I was living in “3-D”, but without an outlet, I was left living in my own head, trying to process my own thoughts . . .  I wasn’t reading poetry, so I wasn’t reminded that those feelings I had floating around were part of the human condition, and I wasn’t writing, so my feelings remained stuck and repressed, until, I’m convinced, they manifested themselves as illness. I grew ill–physically and mentally–and, ironically, I couldn’t even live the three-dimensional life I had so craved. I was the untethered elephant Stafford had warned us about. I had gotten “lost in the dark,” and I did not “recognize the fact” until much later.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break.

Poetry had laid back and played dead, I thought, but perhaps it was I who had betrayed it by shrugging away. So it was one evening in the midst of a sleepless slumber that I turned once again to poetry–not just any poetry, the very poetry I had shared here. I went back to the beginning, and I began reading, again. And perhaps here’s the funny thing . . . I began to feel better. Some things we can’t explain, they must be taken on faith, but I am convinced that some people simply need poetry–need words–to survive. Or maybe not to survive, but definitely to thrive. I shared with a friend this morning (regarding technical versus creative writing), “It’s like eating rice and beans every single day. It will sustain you, but it won’t fulfill you.” The things I had turned to in lieu of written poetry had kept me alive, but hadn’t kept me healthy. I was surviving, but I certainly wasn’t thriving. But as with anything, balance is key, and that’s what my life had been missing all along.

I know many of you found strength and solace here in these daily poetry and words posts. I know I led you to believe that I would be back sooner than now. I know many of you must have wondered what happened. I imagine one or two of you may have even felt let down by my unexplained absence. I apologize, I hope you can forgive me. I wasn’t well, but I have returned, and I am healing. I have missed poetry. I have missed you.

I may struggle to find that elusive balance for a bit. Posts may be intermittent and unpredictable, but perhaps that can be a good thing. A little spontaneity, a little surprise; I hear they can be chicken soup for the soul.

So what say you?
Shall we begin again?


And where exactly does one begin?

Well at the beginning, of course.

Of course.

And so it is that we return to the beginning. To the very first poem I posted here, to the very poem that first saved my life, to the very poem that saves it again.


“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, Dream Work.


I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart
Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

I’m going back to the start

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver (and a note from Christy)

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2007. Beacon Press.



Note from Christy:

2016 was a tumultuous year. It had its share of joy, but most would agree that ’16 also had an inordinate amount of pain and loss and anxiety. It’s why I chose to leave you–for the time being–with Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow.” My long-term readers may know that I’ve opened and closed each year with Ms. Oliver, and given the “box full of darkness” that was 2016, it felt like the right piece to close this year. We can learn from darkness. We can learn from sorrow. We can learn from grief. We may never “get over it” or “feel better,” but we can adapt. We can grow scar tissue. We can choose to be softened, to keep going. We can choose to look at darkness as a gift.

Had I not gone with Ms. Oliver, I may have chosen the following by Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


Words for the Year will return in the new year after a short hiatus. Like last year, I plan to be back by April. I may post daily, or I may post on a reduced schedule, or I may just go with the flow and allow room for spontaneity. This project means so much to me, and I’m touched to know it means so much to many of you as well. (Special wave to Willene.) Sometimes you all are the bright lights that keep me going, just as these poems often keep you–us–going. “The darkness around us is deep,” to quote William Stafford in “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” but somehow, like elephants, we hold each others’ tails and we continue to find our way. Until next time, I wish you love and light and good health. ~Christy


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