I had never heard of Ted Kooser when he was named Poet Laureate in 2004, but my Nebraskan friend, Gary, assured me he was a wonderful poet. Kooser is a Nebraskan and we on the East Coast have our provincial ways. Mostly the Midwest seems a land of tornadoes and wheat and little else. I think of Lincoln, Nebraska and think of the quilt museum there and outstanding courses at the University on the quilt. Even this seems a little strange. Years ago when I visited Kansas City I went looking for quilt related shops and found that the tradition was very new there compared to the East Coast with it's rich New England, Pennsylvania Amish and Baltimore traditions. Yes, like most people here, Nebraska seems to me a great flat land where the most interesting thing is the annual congregation of sand hill cranes.
No more. Finally I've come upon Ted Kooser and was delighted and refreshed to read this book about writing poetry with generous examples -- but not enough of his own to allay my appetite for his work. Kooser emphasizes how to make poetry accessible to the reader while employing the various elements of the poet's craft. The Poetry Home Repair Manual is straight forward, useful to a beginner and to any poet who has not been hopelessly ruined by college professors expecting grand rhetoric and vast ambitions, admiring obscurity and acrobatic language.
The most recent NY Times Book Review had a long article asking if great poetry has died. Where, the writer moaned, are the grandly ambitious, far ranging poets? Who will take up where Ashberry has left off? Well, we've heard about the death of many kinds of art, verbal, visual, musical, etc. Poetry will survive and future critics will look back and find greatness, perhaps where contemporaries had disdain. I don't know if Kooser's poetry will be called "great". I find it accessible and enriching. There are several other poets about whom I feel the same way, and even more individual poems that I come across in chapbooks, in magazines, that people send me.
In those moments when I find I am writing a poem, usually with no intention of sharing it with anyone else, I will think of Kooser's advice, and perhaps return to this book to think about how to say what is on my mind in the clearest and most interesting and most poetic way. I think that's what Kooser's intention was for the book. Not to create "great" poets, but to help those who value poetry, some of whom, may becomes good, fine, or even great poets in the course of practicing the craft seriously for a lifetime, as Kooser has.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!