MEETING TED: Just got in from hearing - and meeting - U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser at Oglethorpe University here in Atlanta. The performing arts center was standing room only (they estimated more than 600) and the line to get books signed snaked through the lobby and back into the auditorium. I sat with my pal and fellow poet Tania Rochelle and Hank Richardson, president of Portfolio Center. Many of Atlanta's literati were also in the house, and everyone was gushing after the reading. It was that good.

While there are many who dismiss Kooser's work, I must admit I find it very moving and eloquent. Yeah, yeah, there's been a lot of bitching and moaning over "accessible poetry," and if anyone's work can be put under that category, Kooser is probably it. There are many who don't even consider his work proper poetry. He doesn't have the academic background (he sold insurance for 35 years) and he's not part of that university crowd jockeying for tenure -- so his selection at poet laureate caused a stir and lots of hard feelings. Good. The keys to the phantom kingdom shouldn't be handed over so easily. A little outsider agitation keeps you on your toes.

I'll admit, I'd probably only read two or three Kooser poems when he was named poet laureate. I was just as shocked as anyone, but after really diving into his work, I found his straightforward and tightly constructed free verse to be compelling. He's also got a wonderfully dry sense of humor, which was on display tonight. And when he read Pearl from his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Delights & Shadows, I was very moved...as in biting my trembling lower lip moved. They evocative story of driving 100 miles to tell his aunt that his mother had died and her admission that ghosts were in her home was chilling and beautiful. You could hear sniffles all through the audience. At a private party afterwards, the wonderful poet Karen Head (who organized the reading and studied with Kooser) introduced me to him and he was very nice and easygoing. It was a pleasure to talk to him in person after our interview on the phone.

There are plenty of poets out there who think he's just another privileged old white guy, but I encourage everyone to take a second look. There are so many wondrous observations about the things we take for granted. Kooser holds these little moments up to the light and shows us the magic in them. As Robert Frost suggested: Read it again.

Comments

jenni said…
I like Kooser. I don't dismiss unaccessible poets, so why the hell would I dismiss accessible poets? I really don't care about a poet's level of accessability just as long as I find the work enjoyable and it adds to my experience of the world.

“To write simply is as difficult as to be good.”
Nick said…
Poetry should... should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. ~John Keats
Collin said…
"Why read great books? Why read great poetry? To find again the words we need to speak to each other." -- Jeanette Winterson

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