Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kooser's Valentines, Franz Wright, and Charles Simic

Had email from a local friend recommending some recent work by some of my current favorite poets. There is a new poem in the current New Yorker by the always interesting, deeply resonant Franz Wright, entitled The World of the Senses. The current Virginia Quarterly Review has 4 poems by Charles Simic featured, as well as an archive of things they have published by him, 3 of which grabbed me: An Address With Exclamation Points, Meditation in the Gutter, and House of Cards. All of them are well worth a look.

Someone I haven't connected with yet, until this month, is Ted Kooser. I'm not sure why; perhaps I had typecast him as a typical Midwestern poet, someone whose subjects and sensibilities are not things that often show up on my radar. In some recent reviews, I read about his latest collection, Valentines, and was intrigued. So when a copy came in for our "International Poetry Collection" at the library, I grabbed it. As he explains in his author's note, Kooser tells how he began sending out annual Valentine poems in 1986 to at first a select group of 50 women, the poems being printed on standard postcards. 21 years later, his list had burgeoned to 2600 and, he implies, all the printing and postage was getting to be a bit much. So the last card went out in 2007 and this book collects all the poems together, with one last one written especially for his wife.

The work in Valentines at once celebrates and transcends the genre of occasional verse. The poems are, of course, all relatively short since they were originally published on postcards and I have the feeling that different poems here will appeal to different people. I thought these two were quite good:

For You, Friend

this Valentine's Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock,
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;
so that the weak, mid-February sun
(whose chill I will feel from the face
of the clock) cannot in any way
lessen the lights in your hair, and the wind
(whose subtle insistence I will feel
in the minute hand) cannot tighten
the corners of your smiles. People
drearily walking the winter streets
will long remember this day:
how they glanced up to see you
there in a storefront window, glorious,
strolling along on the outside of time.

A Map Of The World

One of the ancient maps of the world
is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life. But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pointing in all the directions
two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.

Needless to say, my sensibilities have been duly corrected and expanded. This delightful volume from the University of Nebraska Press is marvelously illustrated by Robert Hanna. If you are a Kooser fan, it is a must. If not, check it out and you might soon be.

Once again congratulations, go out to Jay Leeming; this morning The Writer's Almanac featured a wonderful reading of one of Jay's poems, Man Writes Poem. As noted previously, Jay has had 3 poems published in past issues of Lilliput Review.

Seems there is lot of poetry info this week, so here's one last note. Well worth reading is Robert Pinsky's column in Slate entitled Why Don't Modern Poems Rhyme Etc., in which he tersely answers typical questions about poetry with poems by William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Edgar Guest, Allen Ginsberg and more: no clunky exegesis for Robert! This will definitely strike a chord with (and perhaps provide a few ideas for) anyone who has taught a poetry appreciation class.

On to our tour of back issues of Lilliput. I've been struggling all morning with Blogger to get this post done and, at the moment, I can't seem to upload images so I'll eschew posting the cover right now (ah, finally got it: covers may be seen below) and go right to the featured issue, #95. #96 is a broadside by Albert Huffstickler entitled Pre-Dawn Cycle and, as such, not excerpt-able, hence the need to skip back to #95. This issue was originally published in April 1998, ten years ago this month. Here's a little taste of what was happening then:

from Poems to Eat and Say (from Octavio Paz)

Glowing butterflies:
one dreaming, one awake; all
of us tossed by wind.

Leonard Cirino

when the treetop sways
a thousand butterflies
stampede in me

William Hart


This moth fluttering against
the window screen. I could go on
killing 'til the end of time
and never be satisfied.

Greg Watson

And this final note from the incomparable Albert Huffstickler:

from Interim Notes

Those beautiful moments
I've sculpted from the past,
chiseling away the rubble
of conflict and sorrow.

best till next Thursday,


Anonymous said...

Dear Don:

One of my favorites from Ted Kooser's "Valentines" is the introductory poem, "Pocket Poem".

I prefer Kooser's later works rather than some of his earlier volumes. These would include "Blizzard Voices", "Winter Morning Walks" and "Braided Creek", a collaborative effort with Jim Harrison. Incidentally, these volumes are chock-full of short poems.

I was quite intrigued with your idea of the poetry book that a particular reader might find nearly perfect from beginning to end. Readers choices would certainly be subjective and very interesting! I've thought of four. They were published in 1609, 1923, 1928 and 1962.



Poet Hound said...

Dear Don,
Did you get to hear the interview on NPR with Ted Kooser? I loved it! I've been searching for the book of his published valentines but haven't stumbled onto it yet. Thanks for posting two of the poems so I can get a small and wonderful taste.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the note and putting Kooser in context. I will definitely be pursuing some of of the later Kooser.

I think you have a great idea about asking for readers choices of poetry books that are consistently good throughout. Maybe I'll see if folks would be interested in sharing which books they feel are nearly perfect in a future post.

Since you obviously have 4 in mind, would you like to begin by sharing which ones they are?


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I have some more Kooser info I've run across that I'll probably be posting next week. I'll add your info about the NPR interview to it.

The link I provided to the University of Nebraska Press in the post takes you to their page for Kooser's Valentines. That page has a pdf file with three more poems, illustrations, and the author's note I referred to.

Enjoy and thanks again,