Swimming Lessons: Selected Poems

Open Road Media
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This marvelous collection brings together the finest of Nancy Willard’s work 

Transporting us from Michigan farm country to the streets of New York, from a family picnic by a stream to snow-covered fields peopled by angels, the poems gathered here represent the best of Nancy Willard.

Willard’s gift for peeling back everyday existence to reveal something magical and wondrous is everywhere in evidence here. Ordinary trees become surreal landscapes “fanning the fire in their stars” and “spraying fountains of light.” Poems featuring Great Danes, donkeys, and rabbits reveal Willard’s love for all living creatures. “How to Stuff a Pepper” and “A Psalm for Running Water” coexist with poems about visits from God. The title poem tells the story of Willard at seven, while “Questions My Son Asked Me, Answers I Never Gave Him” explores the joys and pitfalls of being a mother.

Offering imagery from mythical goddesses to pumpkin saints to wise jellyfish, these are poems of astonishing imagination and grace, and will introduce a new generation of readers to Willard’s remarkable body of work.
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About the author

Nancy Willard (1936–2017) grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was the author of two novels, seven books of stories and essays, and twelve books of poetry, including The Sea at Truro (2012). A winner of the Devins Memorial Award, she received NEA grants in both fiction and poetry. Her book Water Walker was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and her picture book A Visit to William Blake’s Inn was the first volume of poetry to receive the Newbery Medal, the country’s highest honor for children’s writing.
 
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Additional Information

Publisher
Open Road Media
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Published on
Apr 22, 2014
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Pages
221
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ISBN
9781480481534
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Language
English
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Genres
Poetry / General
Poetry / Subjects & Themes / Inspirational & Religious
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this strong, appealing collection, Nancy Willard shares her passion for observing the mysteries of the natural world, particularly the flora and fauna of Cape Cod and the Hudson Valley, where many of these poems are set. We see, through her eyes, the coming of darkness to an empty orchard, the retreat of deer at dusk, and the breakup of a river with the onset of spring. Willard is also deeply engaged with the living creatures that populate her world. Her poems record her encounter with a moon snail and her celebration of the ladybugs she sends into the garden and the butterflies that alight on her shoulders like ghostly kisses.

Amid poems about the intimate presence of nature are expressions of absences deeply felt. Willard is drawn not just to the inhabited world but also to the empty spaces with which our passage through life is strewn. In “The Absence at the Swing,” a rabbit watches a swing’s back-and-forth motion just after the children have left the playground; in “Niche Without Statue,” she takes us to “an alcove scoured / to stucco light” and tells us, “Somebody lived here. Stepped away. No tracks.” We learn, too, of the presences she misses most deeply, as in “Phone Poem,” in which she imagines receiving a telephone call from her father after his death.

Whether she is cultivating a sense of the life that is all around her or attending to the losses felt within, Nancy Willard never ceases to enchant us with the sense of dedication and awe that graces her verse.


From the Hardcover edition.
From the acclaimed poet of In the Salt Marsh comes a dazzling collection about the magic hiding in the ordinary days of our past and present. Willard turns a keen eye on the natural world that witnesses these revelations, and the myriad, often surprising ways in which it intersects with our own human lot.

Willard shows us time and again that “In me nothing of childhood is lost.” She recaptures for us not only the fleeting, distant shreds of a charmed, innocent youth, but brings back the people who have been loved and lost. She tells us of the man whose sister appears to him the night after her memorial service, and of the time her grandfather called her mother three days after he died, “. . . and she with her arms full / of wind-washed laundry / just freed from the line.” She gives back to us Walt Whitman, “eating / his supper from a sheet of brown paper.” She lends voice not only to the loved ones with whom we have parted ways but also to the plant and animal lives that remain a mystery to us despite our close proximity to them. In her able hands “the potato opens its eyes” and the dragonfly stands “well mannered and cautious.” Whether she is musing “What it is to be that crow,” bringing us “the gossip of ants,” or noting that “The sea reads slowly, as old men in libraries / follow the news . . .,” Willard brings extraordinary empathy to every subject she touches, creating fascinating new worlds from the ordinary staples of our daily existence. Finally, she plumbs the ultimate union between the human and natural worlds that she brings into such sharp focus.
 
 
Grave
 
Last year four men planted you under a stone.
Today I plant the dumpy heart of a narcissus.
 
Sharing your bed, it will wake up singing.
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