I really liked the poetry in the book. Some made me laugh while others made me smile. I think that my favorite two were "Prayer" and "Nude Study." I recommend the book for anyone remotely interested in poetry, especially modern poetry.
Garrison Keillor is at his best with these sonnets. As his fans know him, he is honest, down-to-earth, and yet full of passion. The sonnets address a wide range of topics - the love of women (of course), yet also love within families, love of God ("Prayer"), and even the love of a country ("Obama"). Some poems are rather graphic, but all come from the heart and from true experiences. The reader can easily relate to what's being said in the sonnet. All in all, I love this little book and enjoy reading it again and again!
A sonnet sequence is not just a collection of sonnets. It is the portrait of a mind in motion over a period of time, usually unified by a central theme. The sonnets in a sequence tend to address that theme from a variety of perspectives, with widely different tones and variations on the 14-line sonnet form. Garrison Keillor's 77 Love Sonnets fits these expectations of a sonnet sequence in almost every way. Though different kinds of love are evoked in different sonnets--loves of wives, a daughter, early crushes, favorite authors, favorite foods and places--the central story seems to concern the love of the speaker for a younger woman, from the beginning of the relationship to the end of it. A few of the poems are lighthearted throwaways, but most are trying to say something true about being in a relationship. Some of the truths are euphoric, some carnal, some wrenching. But they all speak convincingly with the authority of lived experience, evoking obsession without being boringly repetitive about it.
Keillor is adept at rhyme, using slant rhyme as well as clever and humorous full rhymes (passion/cash in, immersed/liverwurst). He guides the argument of each poem well, so that the turn that is an essential part of the structure of the sonnet flows naturally out of what has come before. His diction is mainly straightforward and colloquial, but peppered with a few allusions and some vivid metaphors, especially in the more erotic sonnets. If he occasionally goes for an easy joke or sentiment in the concluding couplet, instead of facing some of the harder issues the poems raise, there is still plenty of darkness in the poems, and most do not come across as merely glib.
What is largely missing from these sonnets is meter. One poem, "Prayer," has rhymed couplets of widely varying line lengths, reminiscent of Ogden Nash. Another, "Table Grace," has rhymed couplets in a thumpingly regular four-beat line. Yet another, "Nude Study," is fourteen lines of free verse. The vast majority, however, have rhymed lines of roughly uniform length, but varying from three to six beats per line, in rhythms that are conversational rather than metrical. Keillor is playing to his strengths as a talker, a humorist, and a storyteller, but what is lost is the grand word-music that is one of the sonnet's traditional assets. The poems speak well, but they don't sing.
If Keillor does not exploit all of the sonic potential of the sonnet, he still writes poems that are clear, interesting, varied, and emotionally resonant. He speaks to ordinary readers about things they can relate to, in language that is immediately understandable. Readers will not feel that a sonnet of his is something they have to decode. Those who enjoy the pleasures of rhyme, structure, emotion, clarity, and accessibility, but who would like to see what meter can add to the mix, should look at the poems of such contemporary sonnet writers as Dick Davis, Rhina Espaillat, R. S. Gwynn, A. E. Stallings, Deborah Warren, Catherine Tufariello, and others.