American Life in Poetry: Column 685


Some of the mannerisms of poetry that can get in the way of an everyday reader's enjoyment are elevated diction, obscure references, and a vocabulary that requires a trip to the dictionary. Here's a good example of a conversational poem that doesn't require anything other than what it carries with it. Steve Langan lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and this is from his book What It Looks Like, How It Flies, from Gibraltar Editions.

Good News

We say the trees are a canopy in mid July,
as if that's a special description of home.
Walking down the hill to see a friend,
I have good news and bad news for him.
We say canopy made out of stars as our
special way to describe the universe to ourselves.
So which one will my friend choose today?
Canopy of trees gives way to the sky;
I'm walking now thinking all the way which
one will he choose good or bad which one?
I guess I can just say instead I love the way
you fixed up the place and these colors.
At a certain age a man can begin to say
things like that to his friends.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Steve Langan, “Good News,” from What It Looks Like, How It Flies, (Gibraltar Editions, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Steve Langan and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.