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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘Devotion’

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 6, 2020

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Over the years, I haven’t chosen more than a few poems about the writing of poetry mostly because if you don’t write poems, you might not be interested. But I do like this poem about poets by Richard Jones, from his new book, “Avalon,” from Green Linden Press. I, too, get up early to write in Nebraska while Jones is up in Illinois.


“Poetry not rest,” is trouble’s answer,

rising before the sun, setting out

in a gray light to the dull grumble

of thunder to balance the words

bottle or old wooden chair or bluebird

on a line’s life-or-death tightrope,

struggling to add color to the canvas,

purple or burnt umber, transcribing

seven violins crying to the willows,

or simply cutting a stem of rosemary,

the deep smell of earth for inspiration,

the earth and the grave, never resting,

working from sheer will and memory,

working with quill and ink if need be,

knowing trouble and rest won’t last,

that no one has the cure for this life

though we honor the day with words,

name the plow and extol the hammer,

knowing that even the poorest poet,

if a poet, is at a desk in a corner

of eternity, already long dead,

laboring to transform death to praise,

never wearying, never once losing faith.

Poem reprinted by permission. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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