Monday, February 21, 2011

Poetry Idol: The Genius of Ted Kooser

If you've followed The Small Nouns awhile, you've undoubtedly noticed that I have a handful of poets that I write about quite often. I think the leaders would have to be Naomi Shihab Nye and W.S. Merwin. I think I'll start a new series that, until I think of a better name, I'll call "Poetry Idol."

Today it's time to show some love to Ted Kooser, a brilliant poet and former poet laureate of the United States.

Mr. Kooser has been writing great poems for decades. And among the living American poetry greats, he, along with Billy Collins, have to be considered one of the most accessible poets publishing today. His poems make sense to normal people like you and me. But more than that, they resonate.

But Kooser isn't just writing poems. He's also written an amazing book about writing poetry, The Poetry Home Repair Manual.

It, too, is quite accessible and incredibly helpful for aspiring poets. And not only did I enjoy reading about how Kooser thinks about writing, but he also includes some amazing poems that he and others have written that I hadn't read before.

And then there's his website, American Life in Poetry. It's an ongoing anthology of contemporary American poetry. Each week, Kooser features a poem that you've probably never read. And each week, he hits a home run. I've never read a poem on this site that I didn't enjoy.

But wait, there's more. I haven't even shown you any of his poems yet. Here's what has to be one of my all-time favorites...

After Years

Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant

Please read the rest here. It's glorious, isn't it?

I guess I'm technically a Midwesterner, but Ted's neck of the woods, Nebraska is way more Midwest than here. If there's a poet out there who captures the essence of the Midwest better than him, I don't know who it is...

So This Is Nebraska

The gravel road rides with a slow gallop   
over the fields, the telephone lines   
streaming behind, its billow of dust   
full of the sparks of redwing blackbirds.

On either side, those dear old ladies,
the loosening barns, their little windows   
dulled by cataracts of hay and cobwebs   
hide broken tractors under their skirts.

So this is Nebraska. A Sunday   
afternoon; July. Driving along
with your hand out squeezing the air,   
a meadowlark waiting on every post.

Read the rest here.

And if you like these, you'll definitely like each and every poem by Kooser featured at Garrison Keilor's The Writer's Almanac. If you only have time for one of them, choose "For You, Friend." It's a week late but keep it bookmarked for next Valentine's Day. And if you only have time for a second, try the incomparable "A Spiral Notebook." Or maybe "Tracks," another good Valentine poem. So tough to decide with a genius like Ted Kooser.

Hope you enjoyed the first ever "Poetry Idol," Ted Kooser. Come back next week for another of my favorites!

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