American Life in Poetry 

American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

Houdini never gets far from the news. There's always a movie coming out, or a book, and every other magician has to face comparison to the legendary master. Here the California poet, Kay Ryan, encapsulates the man and says something wise about celebrity.

Houdini

Each escape

involved some art,

some hokum, and

at least a brief

incomprehensible

exchange between

the man and metal

during which the

chains were not

so much broken

as he and they

blended. At the

end of each such

mix he had to

extract himself. It

was the hardest

part to get right

routinely: breaking

back into the

same Houdini.

Poem copyright 2004 by Kay Ryan, whose most recent book of poetry is The Niagara River, Grove Press, 2005. Reprinted from Poetry, November 2004, with permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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