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Interview With Garrison Keillor on 'Good Poems: American Places'

Radio host to retire, says he's 'in denial'

Q. Tell us about what you're working on now.

A. I'm working on a screenplay about a son of Lake Wobegon coming home for a funeral and finding out that, despite his long years of exile in distant cities, he still belongs to these people. It's scary how much he still belongs here. These people have the power to make him ashamed, which distant cities do not. His conscience resides here. The next novel is a Guy Noir mystery in which the old detective is all lined up to become a multimillionaire thanks to his friendship with a brilliant woman, Naomi Fallopian, who has come up with the perfect weight-loss scheme.

Q. Do you have any advice for older folks who might want to explore writing as a second career?

A. Write whatever is in your heart to write, but have a trusted friend on hand who is prepared to tell you that it's no good if it is no good. Very important to avoid vanity work at this stage of life. Vanity is for people in their 30s.

Q. What do you want your legacy to be?

A. I just want people in St. Paul and Minneapolis to feel that I was some sort of community asset and not a big embarrassment. It may be a close call.

Q. You've said most adults and children don't read poetry. Is there anything to be done about that?

A. Life is a carnival, people are wildly busy, there are love affairs to be pursued, arguments to be waged, omelets to be made, gardens to be tended, plus ballgames, movies, auctions, bike trips, and poetry is very patient. Emily Dickinson has waited 120-some years for you to read "Success is counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed," and she can wait a few more years. Same with Walt Whitman, same with Dorianne Laux, Billy Collins, Philip Booth, Maxine Kumin, May Swenson, and all the others. They'll be around. You will catch up with them eventually.

Evelyn Renold is a writer and editor who lives in New York.

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