I was alerted to this book by Dave Bonta in early May of this year, so I picked it up on 5 June from The Book Store in Des Moines and read it on 26 September.
I probably ought just say to go read Bonta’s post as you’ll learn far more about the work and the authors than I can tell you, and I highly suggest that you do read his post, but I want to say a little myself. I will try not to duplicate much.
First, let me say that I am highly grateful to Bonta for writing about this lovely book again so that I might see his review. I have read a couple books by Jim Harrison and although I know he is considered to be an excellent poet what I have read of his has not really grabbed me. As for Kooser, I have read the odd poem here and there but never a book of his poems, although I have read his, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, which I truly enjoyed and need to revisit.
As Bonta writes:
Braided Creek is the result of a poetry correspondence between two old, white male poets at the top of their literary game, struggling to come to terms with aging and all its associated ills.
The poems came out of a series of correspondence between the two longtime friends “comprised entirely of brief poems” “[a]fter Kooser was diagnosed with cancer” (back cover).
The poems are unattributed and as the blurb on the back states:
When asked about attributions for the individual poems, one of them replied, “Everyone gets tired of this continuing cult of the personality… This book is an assertion in favor of poetry and against credentials.”
Many of the poems are almost aphoristic:
A coffin handles
leaves a lasting impression
on a hand.
The face you look out of
is never the face
your lover looks into.
Many are quite humorous:
I want to describe my life in hushed tones
like a TV nature program. Dawn in the north.
His nose stalks the air for newborn coffee.
Oh, to be in love,
with all five buckets
of the senses
Almost all of them contain something quite deep and meaningful despite their brevity:
Each time I go outside the world
is different. This had happened
all my life.
Elaborate is the courtliness
of the imagination, on one sore knee
As Bonta mentions, they are four to a page and often seem to go together, some in a call and response sort of way. Nor are they afraid to get into social commentary or politics—as these two contiguous poems do—although they rarely stray there:
So the Greeks had amphorae
with friezes of nymphs.
We have coffee mugs with ads
for farm equipment!
How evil all priesthoods.
All over the earth Holy Places
soaked with extra blood.
Time, memory, nature, beauty, longing, wistfulness. The book is full of these and more:
Last year the snake
left her skin on the floor,
diaphanous like the name
of a lovely girl you’ve forgotten—
but not her flesh.
And then there are the simple truths of a person as they age:
Like an old dog
I slowly lower and arrange myself
in a heap of sighs.
I can definitely relate to that one.
I’ll end with one of my very favorites, to which I also can highly relate:
The moon put her white hands
on my shoulders, looked into my face,
and without a word
sent me on into the night.
This is a lovely book of poetry that is also so much more.