13 April 2007

The Work of a Poet

Yesterday afternoon i went to a public reading by Ted Kooser at Metro's South campus. This was actually my second personal encounter with Mr. Kooser, as i met him briefly at Woody's wedding a couple summers ago.

Kooser's poetry is understated, approachable, and funny. I've only read poems here and there, never an entire book. Part of this is due to my own personal issues with poetry. I never really know how to approach a poet's work. Obviously, a collection that the poet puts together around a specific theme or idea (say Leaves of Grass) you take as a whole and read through, but is that true of all books of poetry? I find that if i read too many poems in a row (especially by the same poet) they start to run together.

Kooser's reading was broken up with brief anecdotes and commentary on his works. Kooser's poems are generally short and often surprising. His humor comes from quick turns and juxtapositions as well as actual funny moments. Where he is at his best, i think, is when he is doing the work of definition. As he read a poem describing encountering a person walking down the street who you think you recognize, but aren't quite sure, i was reminded of another great poet, now lost to us: Douglas Adams. Adams' The Meaning of Liff is a dictionary of things and experiences we all know, but have no words for. Adams (along with John Lloyd) provides those words to us (though the index is maddening and nearly unusable, because it is clever and witty instead of structured - though i think it could be both). Kooser approaches these things and events from the other angle, however, forcing us to consider and understand these moments instead of naming them. Naming is the easy way out (sorry Douglas)... the real work is consideration.

4 comments:

Donhowe said...

By the way, Studio 360 (I think that's what it's called) on NPR did a great segment on Omaha on Saturday. You should check it out. That has nothing to do with poetry, but if it makes you feel better, I never know how to read poetry books either.

joel said...

was it an 'awww isn't the midwest so cute' sort of segment?

jay leno had tom vilsak on his show (before he dropped out) and treated him as the adorable candidate: "isn't it special that you think you can run for president"...

anyway...

Thanks for your sort of vote of semi-confidence as far as approaching poetry... it does make me feel marginally better.

donhowe said...

Actually, not at all. It was about how hip Omaha is becoming and all about the music scene. You'd be proud!

joel said...

ah yes... just don't tell omaha that (it'll go straight to its toe-gazing head)