MyStoryYourStory: A Review: I am in love with another…

…man's poetry.

That's not to say my husband's poetry isn't wonderful. It is.

It's just that, well, as much as my husband's lyrics charm and delight, quadruple that for the poetry of Ted Kooser.

He is none other than Poet Laureate of the United States. Since he is a local, living outside Lincoln, Neb., you've probably heard of him or have read a poem or two of his. Maybe you've been fortunate enough to attend one of his readings.

Where do I begin? There's so much that's wonderful and beautiful about how Kooser romantically twists and turns everyday subjects: a cat, bridge club, a funeral, Grandfather's cap, wheat country, the apple orchard.

My heart first fixed on Ted, as I like to call him, some years ago at a poetry reading in Sioux City. He had recently been named Poet Laureate, and his coming packed the Klinger Neil Theatre at Morningside College.

The place was overflowing with young and old alike. Not an empty seat in the house with people stooped in the aisles, seated around the stage with extra folding chairs lined around him – two, three rows deep.

Those spilling into the vestibule and on out the door on tip-toes, straining to see and hear his word-paintings soulfully grow arms and legs, pliable, aching, yearned and then gently creating satiny meanings and memories. I was smitten; still am, mainly because there's nothing dormant, stuffy or untouchable about Kooser's writing.

His knack for turning a discarded beer bottle into a work of art makes me feel found, awakened, and perhaps even reborn as he intimately engages life with all of its subtleties, as in this poem…

Beer Bottle

By Ted Kooser

In the burned-

out highway

ditch the throw-

away beer

bottle lands

standing up

unbroken,

like a cat

thrown off

of a roof

to kill it,

landing hard

and dazzled

in the sun

right side up;

sort of a

miracle.

From Flying at Night, University of Pittsburgh Press

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath," and I admit I still haven't come up for air. A week doesn't go by that I don't drink in Kooser's work. His personification of inanimate objects nourishes, swooning me.

Take, for example, "A Fencerow in Early March." Here the poet reimagines a quintessential knobby old landscape fixture – one I have become blind to for the monotony of never-ending blankets of corn, beans, alfalfa and sorghum. Kooser's fluency in resuscitating discarded bones of life allows me to experience them again.

A Fencerow in Early March

By Ted Kooser

The last snowdrifts

have drawn themselves up

out of the light

clinging to winter.

Beyond them,

a muddy stubble field

has sponged up

all the darkness–

the February nights,

the iron stoves,

the ink of every letter

written in longing.

And the fencerow

goes on, up and over

the next low rise

and the next, casting

a cold, white shadow,

each gate still closed

to spring.

From Flying at Night, University of Pittsburgh Press

Toward the end of Ted's reading, he invited each audience members to write our name and mailing address on a small piece of paper and hand them to him personally after the reading.

Responding obediently, I scrounged for a piece in my purse and filed into a very long line that had quickly formed leading to the podium. There, the Poet Laureate gently plucked each little paper, smiling, his eyes twinkling, as he said, "Thank you." I was toward the end of the dwindling line, and with my heart bounding in gratitude, my turn had come. I handed Ted my little piece of paper and, well, the rest is history.

From that moment on, my ties with this poet have been inextricably linked, as I am forever and always on his mailing list.

Years later, I still read Ted's poetry. When I do, it's as though he has asked me for the last dance, as he gently takes my hand, leading me onto the floor where wonder and grace envelope me. Believingly I follow him, traversing from line to line, stanza to stanza, poem to poem; I am thirsty, not wanting the music to ever stop.

The second time I met Ted Kooser was at Christmastime in Johnson, Neb. (To be continued…)

2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email  boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at my-story-your-story@blogspot.com and find her on FaceBook.

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