Winner of the 2004 Akron Poetry Prize
Nearly every poem in How We Spent Our Time flies at its mast a title in the form of a gerund or ground phrase, that humble verbal noun. The book’s table of contents, therefore, reads like an equally humble enumeration of the ways—some ordinary, some less so—a human lifetime can be paid out, so to speak: looking, getting, owning, learning. We all do them all. And yet there is exceptional artistry in the testimonials these doings makes witness to. The arrangement of the poems within the text is part of it. Note how ‘keeping’ immediately precedes ‘spending,’ in the poems ‘Keeping It Together’ and ‘Spending the Night’; how ‘Killing Time’ comes some ways before ‘Killing Flies in Georgia’; how there are three sorts of ‘taking’ but only one ‘living.’ These poems are conversational but endlessly skillful in the ways that keep the language vivid and fresh and surprising; they are equally skillful in the ways they evoke so much that is elemental, and essential, about our lives. As I read them again, the feeling I get is something like a pang of satisfaction. This is what it it’s like, I believe, to be a fully living, thinking, feeling human being. This is what Auden meant when he described poetry as ‘the clear expression of mixed feelings.’ This is why we read. How We Spent Our Time is flush with pangs and satisfactions, abundant with wisdom and delight. Read it and see.