Ted Kooser

Such a delight this morning to once again open this slim, familiar book.

The Wheeling Year: a Poet’s Field Book by Ted Kooser (2014) feels like an older book than it is, something from another time and place. When I read the entries, I’m transported to that place, too.

I have to admit that this was another of those impulsive purchases — fairly leaping off the shelf into my hands while I browsed at Open Books — and not even poetry, but this strange collection of short prose pieces, arranged by month, like diary entries, or (as he explains in a prefatory note) like an artist’s field notes: “sketches and landscape studies made out of words…[along with] a few observations about life.” On a video on his website, Ted explains that he has been writing every day for 50 years — that’s how you get good at something, pitching horseshoes or writing poems.

The book doesn’t have 365 entries (more’s the pity), but there’s a generous handful of them for each month, a sampling of what is no doubt a daily habit.

In April, for instance:

Month of my birth. What record do we poets leave? Not on stone tablets, but in books like leaves that have matted together under the snows of indifference. That we were fretful, mostly, but that now and then we looked up and glimpsed something wonderful passing away.

Often the pieces are about the natural world, particularly about Kooser’s midwest:

Imagine this bluestem as salt grass, and these crows as a species of gull, and you will know what it’s like to live on the coast of the sky, waves of light slapping the barns, splashing the windows with a blue that has come all the way from the other side. [March]

And because I saw my 21-year-old daughter and her boyfriend on Sunday, and have been feeling my own version of blue, this piece was a balm to rediscover:

For a girl pouring water into the cappuccino machine from a spotted carafe at the Quik Stop at eight in the evening, an old man is as difficult to look at as a page of homework. On the counter next to the register, her geometry book lies heavy, brown, and unopened. Her notebook has numbers scribbled all over the cover. What’s the point in learning to be old, she is thinking, when that is something she will never have to use? [April]

A student once said to me: “In my family we never feel guilty about buying food, fabric, or books.” But buying this book made me feel a little guilty (hardback!) and I told myself I would give it away.

But, no. This is a book that needs to be reread every so often. It needs to be taken down and browsed through. Ted himself seems to say the same: “Keeping the original for myself, of course, I now offer a copy to you.”



A December Miscellany

Where should I begin? (Where does anyone begin?)

This year I’m awash in memories of Christmases past. My three daughters showed up on Sunday to make cookies and help us pick out a tree — just my girls and no boyfriends, which is rare! I always enjoy seeing the whole noisy bunch of them, but it was a joy to see my trio hanging out and talking together. Then — they were gone, leaving a completely naked tree standing in the living room, and a million memories of their younger years bumping around inside my heart. (I decided to feel grateful and happy instead of bereft.)

I’ve also found myself awash in memories of my childhood. For years I’ve wanted to write a Christmas story to share with my family — something about the Port Orford cedar that stood in our front yard. This is me, setting a marker.

And I really, really want you to read this poem, “Christmas Mail,” by the phenomenal Ted Kooser.

Besides, I just spent an hour making one of my favorite quotes pretty so I could share it with a group — and now I can share it with you, too.


Are you neglecting your blog?

I have been sadly neglecting my blog, but working on other projects — one of which is a picture book for the family about my parents’ lives. Another of which has been reading poetry each morning (and writing one-bad-poem of my own). When I came across this poem by Ted Kooser, I thought of this picture from the family archives.

The Great-Grandparents

As small children, we were taken to meet them.
They had recently arrived from another world
and stood dumbfounded in the busy depot
of the present, their useless belongings in piles:
old tools, old words, old recipes, secrets.
They searched our faces and grasped our hands
as if we could lead them back, but we drew them
forward into the future, feeling them tremble,
their shirt cuffs yellow, smoky old woodstoves
smoldering somewhere under their clothes.

-Ted Kooser (from Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems; Copper Canyon Press, 2018)

Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year

Ted Kooser’s The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book has been a favorite on my reading list this year. He doesn’t claim “poetry” for these prose pieces, but they sound like poetry to me. I mean to give the book to a friend, to make a gift of it in all its luscious detail. Instead, I keep carrying it around and not giving it, rereading and writing out these meditative pieces in my own notebook.

Here is one from “February”:

Maybe we carry too much through the door from the past, propped open with a broom that has swept up so much sentiment it has bent to the shape of its sweeping — like a stiff old floor-length skirt still waltzing — then across the wide porch where those we love, living and dead, sit rocking and talking, all drinking longnecks and laughing together, none of them offering help.

Then over the grass, box after box, to the rented U-Haul that is our life, already stuffed with all we haven’t been able to part with, stale with dead dreams and packed so hastily we will never be able to get to the wisdom we lugged out early and loaded on first.

Twenty-nine dollars a day is the going rate, about what a person could live on if he had to, and the past is right there in the rearview mirror, following close, painted with slogans, its springs bent down from all we ever were. (8)