April 16, 2005

Two by Kooser [Filed under: Kooser, Ted]


Her body was the cellar
under her life.
The marks of the old floods
rounded the walls.
Everything that she’d had
had been carried outside
and burned on the lawn.
There was nothing left but a few broken jars
and some spiders,
eating each other
under the stairsteps.
Everyone seemed to know
that there was nothing
to go down into her for.


You take care of the housework
and leave the poetry writing to me.
Just leave the poems to me
and keep up with the housework.
I don’t want to find any of your poems
lying around the house,
particularly when somebody comes to the house
to look at my poems.
And one other thing, and don’t you forget it:
I’m the poet around here,
and you are the mistress of the poet.
If you think you can be the poet, forget it.
For as long as you live here,
you are the girl. I get to be the poet.

These two poems were facing each other in a book of 20 poems by Ted that Heidi had to go to great trouble to find. They run the spectrum, I think, from dark to light. I have been thinking a lot about dark and light in poetry. My favorite poet right now is Claudia Emerson, who I will post soon. Her poems lives in igloos at the dark end. Billy Collins’ poems rest under palms at the light end. Ted scrambles between them.

A website that we should link from this page: www.americanlifeinpoetry.org. New poem each week.

March 26, 2005

Worms, Worms, Worms [Filed under: Kooser, Ted]

The Early Bird

Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping,

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-pulley notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.

Metaphors are mortal. Most die silently, decay, and are forgotten. Others become fossils; such are the ones we call dead. We find them sometimes in cookies. Frequently, they attend meetings. The news of their death is reported almost daily in the pages of editorials and opinion magazines. Often, if we have nothing to say, we say them ourselves. Or we tell them to children, especially those in kindergarten, we wish to bore to sleep.

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March 5, 2005

Thaw; Kooser [Filed under: General Discussion.Kooser, Ted]

I have been gone from this page for a long time and it makes me quite sad to look at the lovely things that have been written months ago and gone unanswered, unacknowledged, unheard by me. Can I respond after such a wintry absence? Do comments in cyberspace keep their flavor when thawed?

Mike, your Mnemosyne post was fine and timely. I too have wondered where I misplaced my soul since transitioning to my latest thing. John, lovely poem of graciously managable length. Brian, glad you liked the Ted Kooser book. Your comments on Etude added.

Let me say a word here about Kooser. Heidi and I have been to hear him twice at the Library of Congress and we (more her than me, actually) have avariciously gobbled up all his publicness over the last couple months – radio interviews, tv interviews, web interviews. The story of the man, apparently, is that he is from Nebraska and he is a good poet anyway. This is a drag. But still, having spent so much time in the slab of midwest that so marvelously coughed him up I do have to say that he has very familiar sensibilities. I am reading his Poetry Home Repair Manual now. If you haven’t heard of it, its what the title says it is, published this year. He talks about things not really being better for having been done one way than another. Yet he talks always about revising poems 30, 40, 50, 100 times before they are ready to be called done. Its a confusing Manual, as most are.

There was an interview with him in the NY Times magazine. Reading it, I was certain that the interviewer was kidding, laughing at herself/himself for acting such the snob when it was so ridiculous to do so. Anyway, I got a kick out of it.

Here is a better article about Kooser. Here is the poem inside it which I love:

The Blind Always Come as Such a Surprise

The blind always come as such a surprise,
suddenly filling an elevator
with a great white porcupine of canes,
or coming down upon us in a noisy crowd
like the eye of a hurricane.
The dashboards of cars stopped at crosswalks
and the shoes of commuters on trains
are covered with sentences
struck down in mid-flight by the canes of the blind.
Each of them changes our lives,
tapping across the bright circles of our ambitions
like cracks traversing the favorite china.

When a critic talks about skillful pacing in a poem they are talking about the sentence that spans four lines and begins with “The dashboards.” I’ll leave the commentary at that for now.

January 6, 2005

Epiphany [Filed under: Kooser, Ted]


I have been watching a Great Blue Heron
fish in the cattails, easing ahead
with the stealth of a lover composing a letter,
the hungry words looping and blue
as they coil and uncoil, as they kiss and sting.

Let’s say that he holds down an everyday job
in an office. His blue suit blends in.
Long days swim beneath the glass top
of his desk, each one alike. On the lip
of each morning a bubble trembles.

No one has seen him there, writing a letter
to a woman he loves. His pencil is poised
in the air like the beak of a bird.
He would spear the whole world if he could,
toss it and swallow it live.

The holidays have seen works of the current Poet Laureate lovingly thrust upon me. When Alan and Heidi visited, they gave me a copy of Kooser’s Weather Central, which begins with the poem above. It was a matter of minutes before I found several poems in it which I enjoyed and continue to enjoy. It was, in an oddly appropriate turn of events, a matter of just a few more minutes before I lost the book. I believe I left it in its wrapping on a table in a coffeshop in St. Paul. It was (and is) a brilliant gift, and I have since been able to replace the text.

Kooser, it is standard to mention, lives around Garland, Nebraska near Lincoln where he worked at the Lincoln Benefit Life Company and as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska. Laura and I recently passed through Lincoln stopping at a Wendy’s and noting that Alan would have insisted on the King Kong Burger across the street on our way to Kearney, NE where Laura’s mom is taking care of Laura’s grandfather. Regional flavor carried the day as I gave Laura’s mom a recording of loons (state bird of Minnesota) and received Kooser’s Sure Signs over a spread featuring Nebraska wine (not a typo).

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