This Death by Drowning

Overview


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 ...
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Overview


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.

A mosaic of reminiscences is tied to water, death, family and renewal.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

"Sad, humorous, whimsical, sentimental, and of course poetic, these memoirs celebrate the profundity of life and death."—Booklist
Sewanee Review

“Most of [Kloefkorn’s] memoir is a fond immersion in his own childhood and subsequent education, beginning with his near death by drowning a week before he enters first grade and continuing with a series of river journeys and watery sojourns and eventually ending with a Caribbean cruise. But that description hardly does justice to Kloefkorn’s skill as a storyteller. . . . The human interruptions, time spent with his wife and his granddaughter, transform Kloefkorn’s personal reminiscence into something more, something that gestures beyond the page, that places the reader and all humanity within the natural cycles of water and seasons.”—Michael L. Hall, Sewanee Review

— Michael L. Hall

Nebraska Life

“Kloefkorn is a perfect blend of poet, raconteur, and scholar. He provides breath-taking descriptions of nature, and he quotes fascinating authorities on lands and rivers, including John Neihardt, pioneer James Evans, Mark Twain, and many more. This Death by Drowning, like Kloefkorn’s poetry—perhaps like all poetry—is about the price of wonder. Wonder at nature, wonder at fate, and wonder—finally, luminously—at the miraculous depths and tributaries of the human soul.”—Brent Spencer, Nebraska Life

— Brent Spencer

Georgia Review

“Kloefkorn’s style comes not only from long attention to the world, but from sustained immersion in the art and craft of language, and from granting himself the freedom to write at length and in depth about the people and places he cares about most. Such work can rise toward sublime visions of the interconnections of people and place.”—Jeff Gundy, Georgia Review

— Jeff Gundy

Sewanee Review - Michael L. Hall

“Most of [Kloefkorn’s] memoir is a fond immersion in his own childhood and subsequent education, beginning with his near death by drowning a week before he enters first grade and continuing with a series of river journeys and watery sojourns and eventually ending with a Caribbean cruise. But that description hardly does justice to Kloefkorn’s skill as a storyteller. . . . The human interruptions, time spent with his wife and his granddaughter, transform Kloefkorn’s personal reminiscence into something more, something that gestures beyond the page, that places the reader and all humanity within the natural cycles of water and seasons.”—Michael L. Hall, Sewanee Review

Nebraska Life - Brent Spencer

“Kloefkorn is a perfect blend of poet, raconteur, and scholar. He provides breath-taking descriptions of nature, and he quotes fascinating authorities on lands and rivers, including John Neihardt, pioneer James Evans, Mark Twain, and many more. This Death by Drowning, like Kloefkorn’s poetry—perhaps like all poetry—is about the price of wonder. Wonder at nature, wonder at fate, and wonder—finally, luminously—at the miraculous depths and tributaries of the human soul.”—Brent Spencer, Nebraska Life

Georgia Review - Jeff Gundy

“Kloefkorn’s style comes not only from long attention to the world, but from sustained immersion in the art and craft of language, and from granting himself the freedom to write at length and in depth about the people and places he cares about most. Such work can rise toward sublime visions of the interconnections of people and place.”—Jeff Gundy, Georgia Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 Midwestespecially of Nebraska and Kansascaptured 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 waterits 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 waterits 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.)
Library Journal
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 ownwell, 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
Kirkus Reviews
An elegant, moving little book from the current state poet of Nebraska that reflects the author's fascination and intense personal involvement with waters big and small, from farm ponds to the South Pacific.

Kloefkorn (English/Nebraska Wesleyan Univ.) cites Loren Eisley's dictum, "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." The author finds magic in other liquids, too, "chief among them cow's milk," but it is water—and the dangers it can pose—that is Kloefkorn's touchstone, both literary and actual. At the age of six, he fell into Harold Simpson's cow- pasture pond in south-central Kansas and nearly drowned. A few years later his brother, trying to sit behind the wheel of a car submerged in Ely's Sandpit, duplicated the near-fatal mishap. 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." Kloefkorn notes another baptism that went awry, with the victim drowning, and wonders if it "had been sufficiently and well-enough performed for it to have taken hold and thus last." Some of the waters he treads are larger, or of different form: He recalls learning of the hundreds drowned in the "bespoiled water" of Pearl Harbor; FDR taking the waters at Warm Springs, Ga.; Truman's calling the Hiroshima bomb "a black rain of ruin"; the time he and a friend dropped an M-80 firecracker in the women's toilet at the Baptist church, bringing on a prodigious flood. He writes, also, of favorite rivers, especially Nebraska's Loup, a stream he has floated down every summer for 30 years.

Water drenches these pages, written about in a style that both immerses and quenches.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803277991
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 155
  • Sales rank: 529,235
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet 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.
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