Garrison Keillor may be the hardest-working man in the business of popularizing poetry. The host of “A Prairie Home Companion” reads a poem a day for “The Writer’s Almanac,” a podcast on 400 public radio stations (including Memphis’ WKNO-FM).
Memphis poet Corey Mesler, who sometimes publishes more than one book of poetry a year and runs Burke’s Book Store with his wife, Cheryl, has scored twice on the program. Keillor read Mesler’s “Sweet Annie Divine” on May 10, 2006, and his “God Bless the Experimental Writers” on Dec. 4, 2009. (To hear them, go to the archive at writersalmanac.publicradio.org.) “Sweet Annie Divine” also was included in Keillor’s 2011 book “Good Poems, American Places.”
This year, besides a book of short stories — “As a Child” (MadHat Books, $18) — Mesler published two volumes of poetry: “The Catastrophe of My Personality” (Blue Hour Press, $15) came out in March, and “The Sky Needs More Work” (Upper Rubber Boot, $12) in July, bringing to 18 the number of his published collections since 1997.
As both a producer and a retailer of poetry, Mesler is not only grateful to patron saint of poetry Keillor, but also is well positioned to affirm the accuracy of a quote he recalls by novelist John Fowles: “Poetry, alas, is something you can’t sell.”
But Mesler is dauntless: “If you want to talk magic, I’d like more people to leave their homes occasionally to visit the bookstore to hear a poet read. How nice it is to hear a poet read his or her own words! How nice to know that you can take those words home with you in little packets called books!” The poem “Privation” illustrates a bit of the magic Mesler conjured in his most recent book: “Outside/ one more acorn/ hits the porch./ In here,/ inside my void,/ a tree falls.”
Fellow Memphis poet Gordon Osing writes on the cover of “The Sky Needs More Work” that Mesler’s poetry is “sustaining the Memphis school.” Osing, who taught in the University of Memphis English department for 30 years and founded the River City Writers Series, also does his part, this year publishing his 10th collection under the title “Silent Movies” (Spuyten Duyvil, $12). The poem “Slinky” from that work illustrates the dark edge Osing brings to a playful mood: “Falling into myself, drawn to fall/ into myself, I find myself slung/ down one step to the next, falling/ into a circular pile, the last of me/ flung down to still another, until/ I reach the bottom and become/ a coiled stack. …”
University of Memphis professor John Bensko published his fourth poetry volume this year. “Visitations” (University of Tampa Press, $14) “ventures into the nineteenth century of the American frontier and of the psyche,” Bobbie Ann Mason says on the cover. This is the beginning of his poem “Yellow Fever: Holly Springs, Mississippi, September 1878”: “Sister Margarete we laid on the grass under/ the poplar tree this morning. Her hands we folded/ over her chest. We wrapped the stiffened fingers/ around her missal with the covers torn./ We had not strength to watch as they piled her/in the wagon with the others.”
Caki Wilkinson’s “The Wynona Stone Poems” (Persea Books, $15.95), published this month, come with the blessing of Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s “Girls.” Dunham calls this series of poems about the Stone family “something miraculous.” Wilkinson, a 2003 graduate of Rhodes College and now an assistant professor at Rhodes, introduces her title character in the poem “The Brink”: “… Today her mean streak is kicking in./ She hates her job. She blames the jobs she quit/ and jobs she didn’t get. She blames before/and some day soon … .”
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