Garrison Keillor is a very funny guy. Whether in his variety show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” or simply telling tales about the folks at Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average,” he’s a superb low-key comedian. He has a unique brand of humor which, for lack of a better phrase, we can call Minnesota Lutheran. On occasion, he’s been a serious and thoughtful writer who knows what it means to be human and humane.
But for years Garrison Keillor has been killing poetry. His mini radio show, “The Writer’s Almanac,” is broadcast on XM Satellite Radio, podcasts, National Public Radio, and more stations than you can count. The radio spot, introduced by an old-fashioned piano tune, is only a few minutes long. Keillor tells us about some notable literary events or birthdays that occurred on that date in the past – much like an almanac – and then, alas, he recites the poem chosen for that day.
Garrison Keillor’s recitation technique is a good definition of lugubrious. His is a sad, depleted voice, rather mournful. No matter the poem, no matter the lines, he speaks with the gentle, falling tones of a mortician. The casual listener will come away reinforced in the common belief that poetry is a nice old ladies’ pastime, genteel, rather like pressing flowers. Certainly it doesn’t sound like a vibrant part of our everyday world. Garrison Keillor’s voice is sorrowful and respectful. And it’s poetry he’s burying.