Ted Kooser Essay - Critical Essays


Detailed images—deceptively simple yet ultimately profound—characterize Ted Kooser’s poetry. His literary style is concise and accessible. His metaphors may reflect the Nebraska or Iowa landscapes he knows well, but the effect is universal. Kooser writes what he knows, and he knows about life. The poet’s aim is to find order in a disordered world and to touch readers with insight or truth. So even when Kooser suffers through taxing radiation treatments for cancer, he looks for hope in the face of death and for beauty in a windswept midwestern landscape. His style varies from haiku-like images to historic tales, such as the narratives recounting the blizzard of 1888 that swept across the Nebraska Territory in The Blizzard Voices. Kooser also likes to paint. That artistic attention to detail is evident in his writing, which reveals his eye for the often overlooked or nearly imperceptible aspect that makes an image realistic. His affinity for illustration is reflected in his books, which often feature drawings to accompany the poems.

Weather Central

Part of the Pitt Poetry series, Weather Central offers fifty-eight works first published in literary journals over a ten-year period. Therefore, the topics are far ranging, from poems about insects, pets, and people to poems about buildings, sounds, and art. In the opening poem, “In Late Spring,” the poet describes the season’s sights and sounds: the howl of jet fighters overhead, the musical tones in the neighbor’s conversation, the spent blossoms of tulips and peonies, and his distracted mind. However, he asserts that though he may temporarily forget his place, the world “holds a chair” for him planted firmly on his own Nebraska acres. In “Four Secretaries,” the speaker, a detached observer, recounts the interaction of young women forging an office sisterhood in which they hum their woes from desk to desk, express their anger at one another in clenched fists and silence, yet ultimately gather to cry in sympathy when one of them is sad. A common theme in Kooser’s verse is the interplay of creatures and creations as exemplified in “The Mouse in the Piano.” The century-old instrument becomes home to a mouse, whose early morning melody disturbs the slumbering speaker and shows “. . . little respect/ for the old piano itself.” The interplay of mouse and mindless music, Kooser asserts, is a “great abstraction.”

Winter Morning Walks

Beginning in 1998, as Kooser recuperated after being treated for cancer, he took walks at dawn to avoid sun exposure. These walks inspired a series of short meditative poems collected in Winter Morning Walks. Instead of a title, each poem bears a date, like a journal entry, and a description of the weather conditions, such as “low forties and clear.” The pieces express hope in the sunrise, note the beauty of the birds against the snow, and reflect the bittersweet realization that life is fragile....

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