BOOK FIEND: Find comfort in ‘Good Poems for Hard Times’


When I was 13, I had a kidney disease which kept me housebound for about seven months. Unlike our current times, when we are all urged to stay home to prevent the spread of a deadly virus, I was the only one in such a situation. I do not think I handled it well. I look back and marvel at my mother’s patience. I remember particularly the homemade blueberry muffins she made that winter; sweet, moist, and decadently delightful. Muffins that we ate, not just in the morning for breakfast, but any time she felt I needed them. Comfort in hard times. Books – and muffins – were my comfort then, and they remain so today.

What are you reading, I want to ask you all? Have you found something particularly diverting or entertaining? What is lifting your spirits and causing you a moment of joy as we ponder the horrific news of today’s death count and watch, in sad astonishment, the finger pointing and screaming, “not my fault” by our politicians?

Into just such times came “Good Poems for Hard Times.

As Garrison Keillor, the creator and former host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” says in his introduction, “The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader are obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right.”

The poetry of this book does exactly that, and these are not endless pages of difficult verse. No, these are a page or less.


The collection has something for everyone and ranges from Psalm 51 (don’t we all find comfort in the Psalms?) to John Donne and Emily Dickinson. But, fear not, these are not, as Garrison indicates, the obscure poems you recall with despair that your high school English teacher assigned you to describe in an essay. These are poems to read, to savor, just a bit at a time. A book to leave by your chair in the living room and pick up when you are feeling sad. A book to leave beside your bedside and use it to coax yourself to sleep. The poems in this book are reflections of times and emotions that we can all relate to, especially now.

These are hard times. It is hard to have holidays pass us by without being able to gather in church or with our families. It reminds me of the 13-year-old me who yearned to go to a movie or be with my friends and was furiously angry with my parents when they told me, “No, you can’t.”

Sometimes doing the right thing is harder than we expected it to be. So, as Garrison says, “This is a book of poems that if I knew you better and if you were in a hard passage I might send you one or two of, along with a note, the way people used to do, believing in the bracing effect of bold writing.”

I’m sending you this, hopefully, as a bit of comfort. Pick up this collection or whatever bit of poetry brings you comfort.

Be well and keep reading; it helps.

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