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The first volume in William Kloefkorn's four-part memoir which, when completed, will cover the four elements: water, fire, earth, and air. This Death by Drowning is a memoir with a difference-an artfully assembled collection of reminiscences, each having something to do with water. The book's epigraph, from Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It, proclaims, "I am haunted by waters." So-and in most rewarding ways-is William Kloefkorn. The first chapter recalls the time when, at age six, the author "came within one gulp of drowning" in a Kansas cow-pasture pond, only to be saved by his father. A later chapter recounts Kloefkorn's younger brother's near death by drowning a few years later; still another envisions the cycle of drought and torrential rains on his grandparents' Kansas farm. There are fanciful memories of the Loup and other Nebraska rivers, interlaced with Mark Twain's renderings of the Mississippi and John Neihardt's poetic descriptions of the Missouri. And there are stories of more recent times-a winter spent in a cabin on the Platte River, and an often amusing Caribbean cruise that Kloefkorn took with his wife. Throughout, Kloefkorn takes his memories for a walk, following each recollection into unexpected, fruitful byways. Along the way he pauses at larger themes-of nature, death, family, and renewal-that gradually gather irresistible force and authority.
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Memoir that is an artful collection of reminiscences, each having something to do with water; Kloefkorn is Nebraska's poet laureate

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About the Author

William Kloefkorn (1932-2011) was an emeritus professor of English at Nebraska Wesleyan University and Nebraska's state poet. He is the author of many volumes of poetry, among them Burning the Hymnal; Going Out, Coming Back; and Swallowing the Soap, available in a Bison Books edition.

Reviews

It was bound to happen: in this era of tell-all autobiographies, here at last is a memoir that is not about familial dysfunction. The state poet of Nebraska, Kloefkorn writes prose with pensive grace, one thought flowing into another as water flows into the rivers, lakes, and oceans that become his metaphors for the world's connectedness. Along the way, the reader meets a father who keeps the fingers he lost in a job accident in a jar on a shelf ("`Work for the county long enough,' he said, `and you'll end up strung out in bottles all the way from hell to breakfast'") and a beloved if stern grandmother whom the young Kloefkorn and his friends suspect briefly of being a Nazi spy. A ten-step method for hypnotizing chickens is only one bit of useful knowledge passed on from an era simpler than our own‘well, not really. This is a quirky, funny, moving memoir full of unforgettable characters; readers will not have seen its like before and shouldn't expect to again.‘David Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee

"Kloefkorn writes prose with pensive grace, one thought flowing into another as water flows into rivers, lakes, and oceans that become his metaphors for the world's connectedness. This is a quirky, funny, moving memoir full of unforgettable characters; readers will not have seen its like before and shouldn't expect to again."--Library Journal. "An elegant, moving little book ... that reflects the author's fascination and intense personal involvement with waters big and small, from farm ponds to the South Pacific. The author writes of his youthful wonder at the family's cistern; of watching his grandmother at a washtub in the backyard, 'washing her long white hair in rainwater'; of his and a paraplegic friend's baptism in Shannon's Creek, performed by a preacher whose sermons were like 'Kansas waterways, neither deep nor wide.' Water drenches these pages, written about in a style that both immerses and quenches."--Kirkus. "Is there any human corner left to illuminate? To surprise? Absolutely, as these wondrous recollections by poet Kloefkorn prove. This slim volume is filled with provocative perceptions garnered from daily life... After the last line, readers will turn back to page one and start again, slowly."--Publisher's Weekly. "Sad, humorous, whimsical, sentimental, and of course poetic, these memoirs celebrate the profundity of life and death."--Booklist.

Memoirs are so pervasive now that readers can be forgiven for approaching the genre with some caution. Is there any human corner left to illuminate? To surprise? Absolutely, as these wondrous recollections by poet Kloefkorn (Treehouse) prove. This slim volume is filled with provocative perceptions garnered from daily life. He is the epitome of his own philosophy that everyday experience is part of an education he hopes never. Kloefkorn is "haunted by waters," a state of mind that is in no way depressing despite the title. The rivers and ponds of the Midwest‘especially of Nebraska and Kansas‘captured him early in life, literally, as he and a younger brother each take a turn at nearly drowning. Water fills his imagination as when he writes about how to know a river or when he quotes Mark Twain, other poets, himself, on the subject. Phrases recur when describing water‘its mystery, its danger, its irresistible draw that transcends generations. Readers will meander with Kloefkorn as he drifts down a river, shows his 4-year-old granddaughter how to whittle a staff or gazes at an ice-locked river. Kloefkorn, like Norman Maclean and Loren Eiseley "and probably untold others, has a fear of water he loves not to resist." He learned early and forever "the intricacies of water‘its glories, its jests, its riddles." And he writes about them in such a way that after the last line, readers will turn back to page one and start again, slowly. (Sept.)

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