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We'd all be better off if we read some poetry once in a while

I get e-mails, lots and lots of e-mails, many from people who have read my columns and yearn to share with me the thought that I am an idiot, a moral thug, a creature barely if at all advanced from his cave-dwelling ancestors.

Sometimes, too, Keith Moore sends me his well-crafted poems.

Keith and I have neither met nor talked on the phone, but I think of him as a friend because we've been communicating for some years now. It started with his voicing an opinion of one of my opinions and has included all kinds of messages, but mostly he sends samples of his poetry, an effusion of remarkably joined words that almost always cause me to become a little more awake.

Here is one I recently received after a request to e-mail me a bunch, something called "Mare and Colt in Idaho."

"One of those quick sudden rewards

Monday morning between Idaho Falls and Ririe

A mottled colt trots quick beside

A plain brown mother

Heads high with a bounce

Nearly a smile —

So the world could be

If our brains were

Wired against vanity

Like theirs."

Read this, and if you are like me, it's almost as if you are there in Idaho yourself. You get an experience, full of suggestiveness about the nature of animals and humans, and you could easily offer an explication, which would be fine, but would not be the experience. It would be a reflection on the experience, a secondhand sort of thing.

That's the religiouslike power of poetry, to take us somewhere, put us in touch with something, reveal or make more vivid some dimension of our lives or this universe. It's a power that Moore wields well, no matter if it's true, as he says, that fame has evaded him during a life that has now stretched to almost 79 years.

Keith tells me he was the last of seven children in a devout Mormon family, growing up in Salt Lake City, not far from the University of Utah. That's where he went to school, earning a degree in music before going in the Army and later teaching English and piano at the college level. He didn't have the wherewithal to get a graduate degree, and ultimately made his living in various other ways — as a stenographer and working for the post office, for instance.

He has lived in various places around the country but is back in Salt Lake City now. He still plays the piano — Beethoven, Chopin and Mendelssohn — but mainly writes and tries to get his writing published. He has been more successful with poetry than his prose fiction and says this about this literary form.

"Early in life I didn't like poetry. I didn't understand any of it and it frightened me. It seemed poets were always bending over backwards awkwardly and going through the back door to say what they wanted. I still think about three-quarters of them do this. Either that, or they don't speak of universal matters. Readers don't want to know about a poet's erotic life and they don't want to be asked to feel sorry for his sad plight in life — they don't want the love yelp or the poor-me. And I don't want the over-cutesy, the look-at-me-intellectual, and the overworked, as in most New Yorker poetry."

I also used to be a little afraid of poetry, most of all the impossibly obscure material, but have discovered poems from throughout history that keep the senses alive, the emotions whetted and the intellect alert to all sorts of new possibilities. I'd like to see us a nation of poetry readers; I think we would be better for it, and I don't think it's a frivolous or ridiculous idea.

We need to search the poems out in books and magazines and on the Internet, and it doesn't hurt, of course, to have a friend like Keith, who writes them in vast numbers and sends them to you by e-mail, pieces such as this one, called "The Change."

"There were days I used to rise

When life was out there

In waves and torrents

And I could hardly get in my clothes

Before she and I collided

Now I wake in safe rooms

And stand in pajamas by the window

Watching oceans all subsided."

OK, Keith. I buy that. Subsided. But judging by your e-mails, friend, not very. Not very.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.