Monday, November 29, 2004


Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate

I started writing poetry in 1991. I thought my beginning poems were pretty good and I was amazed what effect the words I had written had on my reader's emotions. I took several classes at Mountain Writers from Doug Marx, who was a poetry critic for The Oregonian and now writes his own poetry, so I have heard. I would haunt Powell's poetry section, and poetry on the web, and buy anthologies to expose myself to poets and their techniques. Marx asked his students to memorize a poem each week for class. In an anthology called Poetspeak, A selection by Paul B. Janeczko written originally in 1983, I became acquainted with poets like Rutsala (The War of the Worlds), Stanley Kunitz (The Portrait), Frank Steele (Greener Grass),and a poet named Ted Kooser. I chose IN JANUARY, 1962 to memorize that week, and as I did adding each line to the lines already remembered and then repeating the whole thing from the first word, I started to cry. I was sobbing by the time I memorized that poem.


With his hat on the table before him,
my grandfather waited until it was time
to go to my grandmother's funeral.
Beyond the window, his eighty-eighth winter
lay white in its furrows. The little creek
which cut through his cornfield was frozen.
Past the creek and the broken, brown stubble,
on a hill which thirty years before
he'd given the town, a green tent flapped
under the cedars. Throughout the day before,
he'd stayed there at the window watching
the blue woodsmoke from the thawing-barrels
catch in the bitter wind and vanish,
and had seen, so small in the distance,
a man breaking the earth with a pick.
I suppose he could feel that faraway work
in his hands--the steel-smooth, cold oak handle,
the thick, dull shock at the wrists--
for the following morning, as we waited,
it was as if it hurt him to move them,
those hard old hands which lay curled and still
near the soft gray felt hat on the table.

It was hard to find much on Kooser at the time. There weren't many poetry books at Powell's or Barnes and Noble. I would search through anthologies hoping to find another Kooser poem. I guess I identified with him. He was a retired vice president of Lincoln Benefit Life insurance company in Nebraska. I was a vice president of a stock brokerage company and we both were writing poetry. Poets, I thought didn't generally come from the business community. Imagine my surprise when I read recently that Ted Kooser was now the Poet Laureate of the US for the next year! Here's another I like a lot:

At the Office Early

Rain has beaded the panes
of my office windows,
and in each little lens
the bank at the corner
hangs upside down.
What wonderful music
this rain must have made
in the night, a thousand banks
turned over, the change
crashing out of the drawers
and bouncing upstairs
to the roof, the soft
percussion of ferns
dropping out of their pots,
the ballpoint pens
popping out of their sockets
in a fluffy snow
of deposit slips.
Now all day long,
as the sun dries the glass,
I'll hear the soft piano
of banks righting themselves,
the underpaid tellers
counting their nickels and dimes.

A belated congratulations to you Ted Kooser. Thank you for all your poems and good health to you.
Mover Mike

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