This Death by Drowning


This Death by Drowning

William Kloefkorn

155 pages


February 2001


$16.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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.


"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

“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

“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

“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

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