Friday, February 26, 2010

Poem of the Day: A Practical Reader by Carl Dennis

I've been reading New and Selected Poems 1974-2004 (Poets, Penguin)
by Carl Dennis and read this poem then found it on the Smartish Pace website. I've cut & pasted it here for you. Enjoy!

A Practical Reader

I’m willing to buy your book of poems
If you can promise that whenever you liken a day
To a coin that can’t be hoarded,
You spell out exactly what I should buy with it
In the few hours left me before the sun
Sinks behind the garage outside my window,
What items more valuable than those in the shops,
And mention where they’re available locally.

I’m a plain person, I admit, with little patience
For vague suggestions, so if you believe
Poems need to be vague to be suggestive,
I’d better save my money for something else
(Money I don’t have endless supplies of,
Not with what they pay at the hospital),
A work of history, say, or biography
Or a book of encouragement from the self-help section.

I could use a poem showing that those who seem
To be having a better time at work than I am,
Or a better time at the beach or hiking a trail,
Have simply learned to do more with moods
No better than my good moods,
While making less of the lesser ones.

I won’t complain if your book has many poems
Praising the joys of giving so long as it has a few
On the joys of taking. How to choose friends,
For example, who won’t forget me after I’m gone,
Who’ll tell my story now and then to themselves
If not to others. Friends glad to remember,
Who believe their gladness would be close to perfect
If I were sitting beside them sharing it.

As for departed friends, do you have some advice
For the times I’m standing in line after the funeral
With feelings that don’t seem strong enough?
Don’t tell me to level my words down
To the flatland of fact in the name of integrity
When the task before me is rising to the occasion.
If my feelings can’t make the climb, inspire me
To send up some phrases that would be honest
If I were more like the person I want to be.

By Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis is the author of ten books of poems including Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004 (Penguin, 2004); and Unknown Friends (Penguin, 2007). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. His work appears in Smartish Pace, Issues 7, 10 and 15. (2008)


  1. Thought this was hilarious - thanks!

  2. My favorite thing about Carl Dennis is that he has such good taste in manuscripts! :-)

    Peter G.

  3. wow! that is one heck of a final stanza!!


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