8.13.2004

Local Boy Done Good

Ted Kooser is the new poet laureate of the U.S--reared in Iowa, lives in Nebraska (like yours truly but who were born in 'bama with a banjo on his knee), territory he forever revisits, making new the small and worn of the Midwest against the large in the juxtapositions of, for instance, broad night skies filled with stars.

Works online:
According to one site, "Dana Gioia has written the most sustained piece of criticism on Kooser's career in his collection of essays, Can Poetry Matter?."

Occasionally, Kooser can fall into sentimentality, but he's almost always evocative. "Abandoned Farmhouse" (which some enterprising secondary education teacher has apparently used as a lesson plan albeit one that should probably be expanded) is a wonder, and poets and fictionists should take note (from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems from University of Pittsburgh Press):

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in the upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches aafter a storm--a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

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