13 February 2013

Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser

I first encountered Ted Kooser when someone on a poetry forum mentioned his name and a book called The Poetry Home Repair Manual. In that book, Kooser, one-time Poet Laureate of the United States of America, gives plenty of plain advice to aspiring poets, including an admonition not to take too much advice. One important principle of the Manual is that poetry is communication. Kooser teaches that the poet's job is to reach directly into the reader's "heart," to touch her or him in a way that nothing else can.

Delights and Shadows is a book of poems that brings the reader into Kooser's world, and connects her or him in such a way that, although the location is unmistakably the flat, agrarian Great Plains, and the people are his neighbors and relatives, there is no difference: Kooser connects as a human being who has worked, loved, hated, won, and lost. He has been young, and is growing old. He has lived around people of great wisdom, and people of low intelligence; great hearts, and seemingly no heart at all.

From "Creamed Corn:"

"...these Jamaicans were different.
They kept to themselves, in loose clusters,
and knives flashed from the shadows
when they picked their teeth or scraped
Iowa from under their pale, perfect nails...

...Word got around
that out of pure spite and meanness,
sometimes they peed in the creamed corn
...Years later,
wherever we've gone, whatever we've come to,
our ignorance spoils the creamed corn."


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