The bitter cold subsided and we finally got a nice snow. I went walking under the streetlights with four-year-old Xavier. We caught snowflakes on our tongues, found sticks to scratch our names in the pristine whiteness and followed our own tracks home where I sat down with John Knoeple’s new book, Walking in Snow.
The book reads as a meditation on the passing of time. There is a strong undercurrent of the poet’s awareness of his own mortality and there is also still childlike wonder. The final lines of the title poem tell it: “it is like this/you go alone in the morning/your thoughts running on and on/until they come wagging home.” This book is a collection of thoughts come wagging home.
John Knoepfle is professor emeritus of the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he taught literature and creative writing. He has just turned 86. He’s published more than 20 books, and is working on his next book of poetry. He’s the recipient of many awards, including the Mark Twain Award for Distinguished Contributions to Midwestern Literature, and Illinois Author of the Year.
The poems, some new, some old, are all identifiably John Knoepfle: patient poems, simple, understated, often playful, honest lines that do not let go. On first seeing the words on the page you may feel that you’re in for an easy ride. You think you will be able to read a poem and move on quickly to the next. But you will be wrong. You will pause at the end of each and wonder at what has been said and what has not been said and know that something you never realized before is now part of your consciousness forever.
There is a kindness about John Knoepfle and a gentleness but they are not
partnered with naiveté. The pastoral timelessness of “children sledding” is belied by “blue beads” invocation of slavery in central Missouri and the “twenty-five hundred of our troops [who] have died in Iraq.”
Walking in Snow is a datebook of sorts: the academic calendar, Halloween, the Ides of March,
Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries cobble together the decades of a poet’s life. “I am already expendable/talk about deficit spending,” Knoepfle says in “thoughts on my birthday.” His thoughts wander to long-dead cats and then come back again to the present,
to a thoughtful benediction for our new American president in the book’s penultimate poem “lines for a new beginning,” below.
Whatever the journey has been, whatever it will be, whether we sit on a “bench with old men” or “make footprints where there are none”, John Knoepfle’s own steady hands have drawn us a map that we are fortunate to have.
Carol Manley of Springfield is author of Church Booty, chosen by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as one of the 32 best works of fiction for 2008.
Walking in Snow, $16, is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and is print-on-demand. It’s published by Indian Paintbrush Poets, Pearn and Associates, Boulder, Colo. It is also available locally from John Knoepfle himself, 793-5074, who has copies, and would be happy to sign them.
lines for a new beginning
I know where I will go
what booth to enter
the morning I will make my choice
I pray to God now
the country’s next executive
will do right by his oath
I probably will not see the day
the sun sets on his term of office
I am long years from 1923
but I wish him the very best
a time of fruitful service
for us in our troubled world
and a serene evening
when his term is ended
we have still so many gifts to offer
our sad small planet
may he bring to this world a great heart
and a generosity in our name
and pray God the country becomes
under his steady hands
the best that it was founded to be