Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BLOGTOBERFEST13 (Day 30): Garrison Keillor charms the audience with his improvised talk and recitatation of poetry

WAITING FOR GARRISON KEILLOR. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for poetry and those that value it! Hallelujah for Garrison Keillor, who just published his first poetry book, O What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound, and came to talk us Decaturites about it at Agnes Scott College on Tuesday, October 29, 2013.

To many in the United States, Garrison Keillor is a household name because of his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, which has aired on public radio for nearly four decades. Most Americans love him! My Chiboogamoo (aka Tony Martin) and I certainly do! Therefore, when we heard he was going to be reading his new book at the charming women's college literally a 3-minute drive down the road from where we live, we went and were extremely entertained.

Garrison Keillor gave us many surprises. The very first one was that he did not take his place at the podium. Instead, after being introduced, he strolled across the stage, got the microphone, and ambled in his red tennis shoes down the stairs. Joining the audience, he said he wanted to sing with us.

And he did! Beginning with "America, the Beautiful," he went on to sing an old time spiritual, and then to the Beatles song, "When I Saw You Standing There." Everyone sang! 

As he wooed the audience progressing from a patriotic song, to a religious one, to a popular tune, he was strolling up one aisle of the audience, back to the front of the stage and then up the other aisle. 
GARRISON KEILLOR STROLLING DOWN THE AISLE. We just loved being in close proximity with the man we had heard on A Prairie Home Companion for so many years. Tony Martin's profile is shown here in the very left of this photo. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)

Occasionally, he stopped and looked down at audience members, and they looked up adoringly at him. Some held up their I-phones illuminating him with golden light as they took his picture. He would continue to sing and look at people maintaining a connection not appearing to notice the flashes from being photographed.

He spent nearly the entire hour on the floor of the auditorium with us. Talking to us off the top of his head, neither a prepared speech nor the book he was promoting in his hands. Instead, he wove a spontaneous magical web around us as he wandered back and forth from one side to the other.

He spoke about the importance of poetry in our lives--that it matters. He demonstrated by reciting entire poems, explaining how words with meter and rhyme stay with us long after we have forgotten algebra (Sounds like an English major--doesn't he?). As he explored different styles of poetry, he entangled it with his biography, exploring what he had wanted to write and how he had wanted to appear as a young man. 

He explained that he came from a happy family and that he too was happy which had conflicted with an early ambition to be a young serious and tragic writer. He realized by the time he was forty it was too late to become one! 

The poetry that Garrison Keillor has written at 71 (O What a Luxury was just published at the beginning of this month) is in fact all that his subtitle promises: lyrical, vulgar, pathetic, and profound. And, you can tell, he had fun writing it. And he told us that was the goal!

At the end of the hour, Garrison Keillor climbed back on stage to read poems from his book. He already recited some during his meanderings among the audience, but he had few more he wanted to read from papers up on the podium. And when he finished, the evening continued.

With microphone in hand once again, he returned to the floor of the auditorium and took questions from the audience. The crowd was thrilled. During the Q & A, he confessed that he had not prepared an outline for this talk, nor written anything down. Yes, it was awesome to be in the presence of a man so brilliant, witty, naughty, compassionate, and entertaining.

When one young lady asked to sing a song with him, he agreed to as long as she chose a song the audience could sing along with them. So our evening with Garrison Keillor ended in the same way it had started, with a song. Here is a short video of the first verse.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Joe Davich, Director of the Georgia Center for the Book, for bringing us Garrison Keillor and other notable authors such as Bill Bryson, Temple Grandin, and Anthony J. Martin.


  1. LOVE this post and LOVE Garrison Keillor - so wish I could have been there with you and Tony!!!

  2. I wish you and your family could have been there too!

  3. Honestly I had never heard of A Prairie Home Companion until I heard of it through my youngest son. He loves the show and listens to it when ever he can. A couple of years ago we bought him tickets to go to the theater to see it on film..not the same as what you experienced but he loved it...It sound like old fashioned entertainment...Your night sounded wonderful. Glad you were able to go.

  4. Yes Darlene, Garrison Keillor offers old-fashioned entertainment. There are not many people like him. One of the things he said that has stuck with me is that this book of poetry is something that he has been wanting to write since he was a ten-year-old boy. And many of the poems have that vulgar charming perspective of a boy with an experienced man's confidence in expressing it. There was this young man behind me squirming at some of the lines as Garrison Keillor recited them from his memory, especially the one about sperm and ovum. Feels awkward just writing those words!