On Our Bookshelves:
Good Poems

BOOK: Good Poems

EDITOR: Garrison Keillor



This collection of poetry, selected by Garrison Keillor from the poems that he’s read on public radio on The Writer’s Almanac, is just what it says it is: good poems. Idiosyncratic in his taste, Keillor chose selections for their brevity, clarity, simplicity, memorability, and accessibility.   Many of them tell a story…of love, or tragedy, or myth, or history. Of a beautiful morning, of everyday happiness, of work, of forgiveness, of loneliness, of argument. There are much-anthologized classics here (he’s rather heavy on Emily Dickinson), and poets Keillor once “cocked a snoot at,” but now admires, like Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski. His introduction is forcefully opinionated, and fun to read, even if you disagree with his conclusions (Walt Whitman being the “Typhoid Mary of American Lit,” T. S. Eliot “the great stuffed owl” whose work is “rather bloodless,” Allen Ginsburg as “something of a gasbag,” and so on).


Keillor claims that the hidden subtitle of the book is a conspiracy of friendliness (all literary criticism aside for once) and quotes Kenneth Rexroth: “The mature man lives quietly, does good privately, assumes personal responsibility for his actions, treats others with friendliness and courtesy, finds mischief boring and keeps out of it. Without this hidden conspiracy of good will, society would not endure an hour.” Good poems, then: high praise, indeed.


He also helpfully includes short biographies of the poets featured within, so if you find that a taste of something here is to your liking, you can quite easily learn more.


Buy yourself a copy for the sheer pleasure of it. You will be rewarded many times over when you read it and then again when you find yourself seeking inspirational words for a wedding toast, a eulogy, or an awards ceremony. Or use it to start your own, personal, idiosyncratic anthology…with a few poems from this book, some half-remembered from your childhood but now instantly searchable online, a few that pop up on social media, a few wherever else you find them.  We are, most of us, lovers of poetry, even if we don’t all know it just yet.


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles





A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

Lexicon, Max Barry

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The House Without a Key, Earl Derr Biggers

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

What If?, Randall Munroe

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff


Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com


Lead-In Image Courtesy of Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com