Memory

Ted Kooser, former Poet Laureate of the United States and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was recently in St. Louis for a reading and workshop. I’ve adored Mr. Kooser’s work for years and having him in my city was a tremendous gift. For those of you who don’t know much about him, Kooser worked as an insurance executive for decades. But he was also committed to his craft. In order to do both, he rose each day at 4:30 a.m. and wrote for two hours, then went to work.

His attention to detail is relentless. During his visit here, he said that his poems might undergo something like 40-50 edits…with the goal that each revision must move toward clarity and accessibility and away from difficulty. “I want my poem to appear like a stroke of watercolor, like I wrote it in two or three minutes,” said Kooser. He also spoke about the importance of paying attention and living in the present—two indispensable practices for the writer.

Kooser never shows his effort on the page. He makes the work appear both inevitable and free.  And because of that, when I read him, it seems I breathe pure, cool oxygen.

One of my very favorite Kooser poems deals with writing. It’s called “Memory” and it appears in his 2004 collection, Delights & Shadows:

Spinning up dust and
as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields,
it sucked up into its heart
hot work, cold work, lunch buckets,
good horses, bad horses, their names
and the names of mules that were
better or worse than the horses,
then rattled the dented tin sides
of the threshing machine, shook
the manure spreader, cranked
the tractor’s crank that broke
the uncle’s arm, then swept on
through the windbreak, taking
the treehouse and the dirty magazines,
turning its fury on the barn
where cows kicked over buckets
and the gray cat sat for a squirt
of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed
the chicken pen, undid the hook,
plucked a warm brown egg
from te meanest hen, then turned
toward the house, where threshers
were having dinner, peeled back
the roof and the kitchen ceiling,
reached down and snatched up
uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa,
parents and children one by one,
held them like dolls, looked
long and longingly into their faces,
then set them back in their chairs
with blue and white platters of chicken
and ham and mashed potatoes
still steaming before them, with
boats of gravy and bowls of peas
and three kinds of pie, and suddenly,
with a sound like a sigh, drew up
its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel,
and there at its tip was nib of a pen.

 

 

Lorelei Books

 

Photos of two more wonderful indy bookstores:

 

Lorelei Books

McCormick Book Inn

Exterior of McCormick Book Inn

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