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November 28, 2010

William Kent Krueger on Shared Lives and Shared Poems

Posted by Anonymous
krueger-william-kent_150x110b.jpgToday’s guest blogger is William Kent Krueger --- “the Michael Connelly of the Midwest” --- whose latest novel, VERMILION DRIFT, made’s Mystery Mayhem feature this September. Here, he shares his favorite holiday gift --- along with a few of his favorite poems --- and reflects on how, over the years, it’s held his family together. 
THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door
--- From “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes
The Christmas I was 10 years old, my father and mother gave me that great story-poem as a gift. It was one of many gifts, all included in the same package: an anthology of poetry aimed at young readers. The collection contained “The Raggedy Man,” “The Village Blacksmith,” “I Had but Fifty Cents,” “Casey at the Bat,” dozens of brief, wonderful rhymes by Ogden Nash, and a hundred other favorites. In truth, the book belonged not just to me, but to all four children in our family. We weren’t people with a lot of money, and most of the books we read came from the library. A book that belonged to me and my siblings equally and only to us --- it was not my parents’ property at all --- was strangely thrilling; I can’t recall another item that was ours in quite this way. We fought over many things --- riding shotgun in the car, the last donut in the box, whose turn it was to take out the garbage --- but we never fought over that book. Which is odd, when I think about it now, because we were always reading it, and that probably says something about the way we felt toward the anthology: In our eyes, it possessed a certain gravitas.
We moved around a lot when I was a kid. There wasn’t much beyond family that bound us, no common roots to a place. That book traveled with us from state to state, town to town, and in every new house, it was something we unpacked immediately to make the strange surroundings familiar. There were poems that soothed me (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”), poems that scared me (“Little Orphant Annie”), and poems that inspired me (“The Charge of the Light Brigade”). Though it had no flesh or bone, it was as good a friend as I’ve ever known.
Eventually, of course, it was so well-loved that it simply began to fall apart. The day I left for my freshman year of college, I saw the last of it: a ragged book with yellowed pages, a faded, blue cover and a title whose name, over the years, I have forgotten.
But there are poems from that anthology that, to this day, my brothers, and sister and I can recite line by line, and, when we we’re together, we often do. Those lines, learned from a Christmas gift given 50 years ago, are tethers that keep us connected to our mutual childhood, that help us hold on to some of our best memories of the life we shared together.
Tomorrow, New York Times bestseller Susan Mallery muses about the Christmas she always dreamed of.