WINTER MORNING WALKS: ONE HUNDRED POEMS TO JIM HARRISON, Ted Kooser. Carnegie-Mellon University Press, Pittsburgh, 2000, 120 pages, $15.95,

I am here to confess that I have been making everything hard. What brings on such a mood—a straitjacket twisting my arms up and bunching my shoulders so my muscles cramp—is often the newspaper, its heavy thump on the drive, the leaden headlines, the AP wire photographs of bombed buildings. From there it spreads, so that my life seems difficult. A daily walk becomes a burden instead of a gift. Instead of happily co-existing with my old dog, I begin worrying over him. Gratitude, another daily habit, is only one more chore.

In such a state, how lucky to have picked up this book by Nebraska poet Ted Kooser. From the back cover:

Great poetry, like Kooser’s, like Chekhov’s stories, is not sentimental, but it is characterized by a kind of tender wisdom communicated with absolute precision.
–Jonathan Holden, The North Dakota Quarterly

I have sung Kooser’s praises before, and so I won’t go on and on today (for two of them, see links here and here.) In brief, this book came about when Kooser was recovering from cancer surgery and radiation; he writes  in the short preface:

During the previous summer, depressed by my illness, preoccupied by the routines of my treatment, and feeling miserably sorry for myself, I’d all but given up on reading and writing. Then, as autumn began to fade and winter came on, my health began to improve. One morning in November, following my walk, I surprised myself by trying my hand at a poem. Soon I was writing every day.

He walked before first light—his oncologist had told him to stay out of the sun for a year—and each day he wrote a short poem, pasted it onto a postcard, and sent it to his friend, writer Jim Harrison. What could be simpler? And how lucky are we, to have the record of these poems, a whole chain of 100, stepping stones, or a daily prescription to be taken, each made of close observation and (often) dazzling metaphor.

november 9

Rainy and cold.

The sky hangs thin and wet on its clothesline.

A deer of gray vapor steps through the foreground,
under the dripping, lichen-rusted trees.

Halfway across the next field,
the distance (or can that be the future?)
is sealed up in tin like an old barn.

—Ted Kooser

My work isn’t hard, not even this work of putting up a blog post each week. Read a book of poems. Share one poem. (I make it hard, by wanting the post to be a “real” review, but it needn’t be. Let’s call it an “appreciation,” a little celebration, sharing with my friends a book I enjoyed.)

Kooser’s postcard poems are about his walks, about reminiscences of his childhood, about his old dog, Hattie. They are made of homely things, bedsheets and sewing machines and birds. They are, like the birds, “full of joy.” The first poem (above) is from November 9 and they continue through March 20:

The vernal equinox.

How important it must be
to someone
that I am alive, and walking,
and that I am writing these poems.
This morning the sun stood
right at the end of the road
and waited for me.

—Ted Kooser

So here I am, just past this year’s vernal equinox, with daffodils tipping back their heads and shouting into the rain. And here I am, with this book.

Photo by Tina Nord, via

Ted Kooser, A Man with a Rake

A MAN WITH A RAKE, Ted Kooser. Pulley Press (an imprint of Clyde Hill Publishing), Seattle / Washington D. C., 2022, 32 pages, $14 paper,

I admit I am phoning it in this morning, but who can resist a chapbook of poems by Ted Kooser? I saw this copy at Edmonds Bookshop, and, even though I already own most of his books, I grabbed it up.

Or, I thought I owned most of his books, until I reread his list of books this morning.

Anyway, I doubt any of my readers are new to Kooser. His Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets ought to already be in your home library. (Even if you’re not a poet.) He is a former United States Poet Laureate, won a Pulitzer Prize for Delights and Shadows, etc. Anytime I’m told, “if you lived back east, you’d be better connected,” I think of Kooser, living in the midwest, writing about farms and farmers and farmhouses, working as an insurance agent for much of his career (!), and still here, still writing.

I loved these lines—from Kooser himself—in his biography at Poetry Foundation:

“I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”

This poem struck me as appropriate, maybe, for Easter Sunday:

A Fox

for Dan Gerber

I saw a red fox stepping in and out
of the shadows of tall granite stones
in a cemetery’s oldest section, fur
flaring as she entered each patch
of sun, though her feet and the tip
of her tail were too darkened by dew
to be set alight. She was quite small
but in her presence the stones forgot
their names. Above her the canopy
was respectfully opening oak by oak
to light her way, though she offered
no sign that she expected any less.
I couldn’t move for fear she’d stop
and fix me with those eyes that had
already stopped everything there,
the headstones, the plastic flowers,
I, too, now breathless as I watched
her pass along that long, long hall,
a flame reflected in its many doors.

—Ted Kooser

If you need to know more about Kooser, visit his page at Poetry Foundation or

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

Why a blogpost today? Where should I begin? (Where does anyone begin?)

On Sunday, my three daughters came over 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 behind a completely naked tree in my living room, and a million memories of their younger years bumping inside my head and my heart. (I decided to feel grateful and happy instead of bereft.)

Lately I’ve been 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. Why not write it?

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

Is that enough for a blog post? Mostly, I just spent an hour making one of my favorite quotes pretty so I could share it with my women’s circle — and now I can share it with you, too.