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  #1  
Unread 07-07-2004, 10:52 PM
Steven Schroeder Steven Schroeder is offline
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Hey, I think we can even avoid the de rigeur Robert Mezey "This Poet Isn't Good" post given his positive mention of Kooser on the Bogan thread. Kooser is among my 10 or so favorite poets working today.

A nice little bio of him appears here: http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/NCW/kooser.htm

And some poems:

(Dana Gioia had high praise for this poem in his essay on Kooser in Can Poetry Matter)


Spring Plowing

West of Omaha the freshly plowed fields
steam in the night like lakes.
The smell of the earth floods over the roads.
The field mice are moving their nests
to the higher ground of fence rows,
the old among them crying out to the owls
to take them all. The paths in the grass
are loud with the squeak of their carts.
They keep their lanterns covered.


Fort Robinson

When I visited Fort Robinson,
where Dull Knife and his Northern Cheyenne
were held captive that terrible winter,
the grounds crew was killing magpies.

Two men were going from tree to tree
with sticks and ladders, poking the young birds
down from their nests and beating them to death
as they hopped about in the grass.

Under each tree where the men had worked
were twisted clots of matted feathers,
and above each tree a magpie circled,
crazily calling in all her voices.

We didn’t get out of the car.
My little boy hid in the back and cried
as we drove away, into those ragged buttes
the Cheyenne climbed that winter, fleeing.


A Letter in June

In the morning, early, I push open
the door and they drop like a hard rain
out of the top of the frame where they have
rested all night, a dozen or more
moth millers—or is it miller moths? —
fat as the tips of my fingers, tapping
the redwood deck with their dusty
stupor. For a moment they lie still,
some of them upside down, or tipped
on their sides against the dewy sill,
their tiny black eyes bright but baffled,
for they have forgotten how to fly.
They look a little like wood chips lying
next to a stump where a cold man
might have split kindling for his stove
for morning coffee, and then they
suddenly remember they have wings,
and fly this way and that, into my hair,
onto my nightshirt, into my face,
as if I were made of a steady light
and were irresistible, but I am just
an old man looking for a little warmth
at his open door, fussily brushing
the chips away, struck chop by chop
from dawn.


(This next one is from the spring Hudson Review)

Auto Salvage

In that muddy junkyard, wrecks were stacked
like manuscripts, each with some terrible story
the roads had rejected. We opened them slowly
and read by the light of our cutting torches,
breathing the fleshy odor of acetylene,
peeling the deckled pages back, so many alike:
a woman’s shoe with a snapped-off heel
crushed up against the firewall, dried blood
on the cheap seat covers, spatters of brains
on the dashboard clocks, a few of which,
somehow still alive on a trickle of current,
kept somebody’s time, whining like flies
trapped under glass. In the summer air,
the too-sweet odor of spilled brake fluid,
the smell of burning paint and molten metal,
and under my boots, blue puddles of oil
with twisted rainbows. And from the shop
maybe fifty yards away, the scanner so loud
that all those passing on the road could hear it,
raspy with static, like the forced voice
of a man with his larynx cut out, desperate,
trying all day to get someone to listen.

------------------
Steve Schroeder
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  #2  
Unread 07-08-2004, 02:15 PM
Clay Stockton Clay Stockton is offline
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One of my favorite papers I wrote in college came out of an assignment to compare Kooser's “The Blind Always Come as Such a Surprise” and Linda Pastan’s “after minor surgery”--a comparison which does the Pastan poem no favors.

Kooser's poem, though, is a wonderful piece of writing. I think Gioia goes into it at length in his book of essays. Fine work.

Edited to note: I think that the "come as such a surprise" phrase is a key one in considering Kooser's work. He's a poet with a knack for surprises, the startling image or connection. I'm not sure there's any better knack that a writer can have. Readers love to "expect the unexpected."

--CS

P.S. And here's the poem . . . as a critic, I'm not sure that I wholly swallow Gioia's assertion that a critic cannot "meaningfully add to the attentive reader's appreciation of this poem" . . . but then, as a critic, I'm biased.

There sure is a lot in this one, though.


The Blind Always Come as Such a Surprise

The blind always come as such a surprise,
suddenly filling an elevator
with a great white porcupine of canes,
or coming down upon us in a noisy crowd
like the eye of a hurricane.
The dashboards of cars stopped at crosswalks
and the shoes of commuters on trains
are covered with sentences
struck down in mid-flight by the canes of the blind.
Each of them changes our lives,
tapping across the bright circles of our ambitions
like cracks traversing the favorite china.



[This message has been edited by Clay Stockton (edited July 08, 2004).]
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  #3  
Unread 07-08-2004, 10:08 PM
Steven Schroeder Steven Schroeder is offline
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Clay:

Thanks for posting that one. It's one I like, and it's in the wonderfully chosen Gioia/Mason/Schoerke 20th Century American Poetry anthology. Here are a couple more not in the anthology but that I still like.

Laundry

A pink house trailer,
scuffed and rusted, sunken
in weeds. On the line,

five pale blue workshirts
up to their elbows
in raspberry canes--

a good, clean crew
of pickers, out early,
sleeves wet with dew,

and near them, a pair
of bright yellow panties
urging them on.


(From the Atlantic Monthly: )

Biker

Pulling away from a stoplight
with a tire's sharp bark,
he lifts his scuffed boot and kicks at the air,
and the old dog of inertia gets up with a growl
and shrinks out of the way.


Home Medical Dictionary

This is not so much a dictionary
as it is an atlas for the old,
in which they pore over
the pink and gray maps of the body,
hoping to find that wayside junction
where a pain-rutted road
intersects with the highway
of answers, and where the slow river
of fear that achingly meanders
from organ to organ
is finally channeled and dammed.


Kooser's low-key use of metaphor and small but telling and vivid details simply blows me away. I truly hope I can write like he does someday.

------------------
Steve Schroeder



[This message has been edited by Steven Schroeder (edited July 09, 2004).]
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  #4  
Unread 07-09-2004, 10:15 AM
Mark Blaeuer Mark Blaeuer is offline
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With a Midwestern sensibility, he reminds me a little of William Stafford. Here's a more overt statement, not without irony, but retaining the low-key metaphor Steven mentioned. It's from Not Coming To Be Barked At.

Letter To Dead Forebears

You would be pleased with my life.
I have been taught the farming of papers.
My desk is a field free of weeds.
I have driven away the crows of my fears,
and my death is a lone oak cackling with blackness
off in the distance. The bright moon
of good money looks over my shoulder,
passing its regular phases. You would approve
of my house, my wife, and my children.
We eat well and sleep peacefully,
the cricket of happiness ticking away
in the garden. As you did,
we keep to ourselves. I pay my taxes;
I give weekly to the church of my choice.
I refuse to believe that my life
is the cause of the murder of others.

[This message has been edited by Mark Blaeuer (edited July 09, 2004).]
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  #5  
Unread 07-09-2004, 12:40 PM
Steven Schroeder Steven Schroeder is offline
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Mark:

I like the comparison to Stafford, another poet I admire. Kooser also reminds me of Jared Carter, another low-key poet who makes use of rural and small-town settings and often has a haunting tone to his work.

------------------
Steve Schroeder
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  #6  
Unread 07-09-2004, 12:45 PM
Joseph Bottum Joseph Bottum is offline
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Here's a newspaper review of his new book:
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansas...9059550.htm?1c
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  #7  
Unread 07-10-2004, 07:12 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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He's a terrific poet. I'd never heard of him until I read Dana's appraisal and started reading his work. He has an extraordinary gift for the unexpected image and his language is invariably highly charged. I'm indebted to him for a review that sold a lot of copies of Ploughshare in Nebraska, so I s'pose I'm prejudiced, but he's my favorite poet writing free verse these days.
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  #8  
Unread 07-10-2004, 02:38 PM
Steven Schroeder Steven Schroeder is offline
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A couple more Kooser poems:

(From the Hudson Review via Poetry Daily)

Garrison, Nebraska

The north-south streets are named for poets—
Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant, Lowell—
so it's no surprise that this tiny village
is fading to gray, mildewed and dusty,
shelved at the back of the busy library
of American progress. On this winter day
all that's left of Whittier's "Snowbound"
whispers in under the nailed-shut door
of a house at the edge of a cornfield,
and slides across a red vinyl car seat
wedged in a broken tree. All but a few
stubborn families have packed up and left,
seeking a better life, following Evangeline,
leaving this island with its cars up on blocks,
its gardens of broken washing machines,
its empty rabbit hutches nailed to sheds,
cold and alone on the sea of the prairie,
to be pounded and pounded forever
by time and these whitecaps of snow.


(This one was in Poetry 180, which I think is a nice short anthology of accessible poetry, and includes at least a little formal verse too)

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

------------------
Steve Schroeder

[This message has been edited by Steven Schroeder (edited July 10, 2004).]
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  #9  
Unread 02-23-2005, 01:39 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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A very personable--and useful--essay on Poetry Daily:

Writing for Others

Perhaps should be required reading for newbies. But we could all use this reminder from time to time.
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  #10  
Unread 02-23-2005, 10:06 AM
Jennifer Reeser's Avatar
Jennifer Reeser Jennifer Reeser is offline
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I'd never read Kooser, either, till Dana recommended him to me a couple of years ago. This is my favorite, so far (though I have to confess I haven't delved deeply into his work):

Selecting A Reader


First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.



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