Tuesday, April 25, 2017

For National Poetry Month: 30 Poets, #25

From The Writer's Almanac:
It’s the birthday of American poet Ted Kooser (1939), best known for his homespun, conversational poetry that explores rural life. Kooser was born in Ames, Iowa, and when he graduated from high school, his guidance counselor, who was also the football coach, suggested he could be an architect after noticing Kooser had received all A’s in art class. Kooser had initially hoped to be a painter, because he thought that might make him romantically interesting to girls, but he thought architecture might work, too, so off he went to Iowa State, intending to study architecture, but during his junior year, he had an epiphany, left his architecture class, walked down the road, and threw his slide rule into Lake Laverne. He dropped out of architecture school and devoted himself to writing. 
Like Wallace Stevens, another famous American poet, Kooser earned a living working in the insurance industry. He worked for more than 30 years for Lincoln Bankers Life Insurance, rising early every morning so he could write poetry for an hour and a half before going to the office. By the time he retired, he’d published seven books of poetry, including Flying at Night (2005) and Valentines (2008). His latest collection is The Bell in the Bridge (2016). 
Kooser was the 30th poet laureate of the United States and won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Delights and Shadows (2004). 
About writing about everyday things, he says, “Behind the screen of the ordinary can be found unique and wonderful things.”

Here's a sampler:


Today you would be ninety-seven
if you had lived, and we would all be
miserable, you and your children,
driving from clinic to clinic,
an ancient fearful hypochondriac
and his fretful son and daughter,
asking directions, trying to read
the complicated, fading map of cures.
But with your dignity intact
you have been gone for twenty years,
and I am glad for all of us, although
I miss you every day—the heartbeat
under your necktie, the hand cupped
on the back of my neck, Old Spice
in the air, your voice delighted with stories.
On this day each year you loved to relate
that the moment of your birth
your mother glanced out the window
and saw lilacs in bloom. Well, today
lilacs are blooming in side yards
all over Iowa, still welcoming you.


"There's never an end to dust
and dusting," my aunt would say
as her rag, like a thunderhead,
scudded across the yellow oak
of her little house. There she lived
seventy years with a ball
of compulsion closed in her fist,
and an elbow that creaked and popped
like a branch in a storm. Now dust
is her hands and dust her heart.
There's never an end to it.


She was all in black but for a yellow pony tail
that trailed from her cap, and bright blue gloves
that she held out wide, the feathery fingers spread,
as surely she stepped, click-clack, onto the frozen
top of the world. And there, with a clatter of blades,
she began to braid a loose path that broadened
into a meadow of curls. Across the ice she swooped
and then turned back and, halfway, bent her legs
and leapt into the air the way a crane leaps, blue gloves
lifting her lightly, and turned a snappy half-turn
there in the wind before coming down, arms wide,
skating backward right out of that moment, smiling back
at the woman she'd been just an instant before.

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