Thousands of Broadways/Lights on a Ground of Darkness

Two of America’s recent poets laureate have published small books on American hometowns—one focusing on the hometown in literature and film, the other a series of recollections from the poet’s childhood. Both poets are honoring their parents, and both show us the evening glow of nostalgia in opposition to the instinct to move forward without stopping to reminisce. Readers who have villages in their lives or see village dynamics in their congregations might enjoy these brief guides through the comfort and meanness of small communities.

Sunday morning lectionary readings certify our citizenship in Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, and other cities where cultures clash and ideas compete. The worlds of scripture plant us with Mary and Joseph, Martha and Mary one day, and the next day let us grow to mature action, following Paul into adventuresome evangelism and new designs. In reflection and holiday homecomings we return to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Bethany, and the other villages where our tribe once gathered, to childhood churches and neighborhoods. Our big ideas and big ambitions run to the city the way rivers run to the sea, but faith and values are born in places small enough to create comfort zones around young lives, quiet enough for spiritual exercises and safe enough to support and encourage singing.

Robert Pinsky’s Thousands of Broadways analyzes the American town of the 19th through the middle of the 20th century “as it lives in a few specific, impressive works of art." His own hometown—Long Branch, New Jersey—turns up throughout the book, folded into the chapters as the memories of it might be folded into Pinsky’s everyday thoughts. Ted Kooser’s Lights on a Ground of Darkness is the poet’s gift to his mother. As she lay dying in an assisted-living apartment, Kooser wrote an essay about her family, a task he had hoped to accomplish since he was a little boy.