What is "Selecting a Reader" by Ted Kooser about?

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In this quirky poem, Ted Kooser details the woman that he would most like to be reading his poetry. She is a fictitious character who exists only in his imagination. Rather than focusing on her beauty, which he mentions initially, Kooser's focus is on her spontaneity. He explains that she...

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In this quirky poem, Ted Kooser details the woman that he would most like to be reading his poetry. She is a fictitious character who exists only in his imagination. Rather than focusing on her beauty, which he mentions initially, Kooser's focus is on her spontaneity. He explains that she has gone out to read his poetry without drying her hair properly.

She is certainly not wealthy, which is evidenced by the fact that Kooser envisions her wearing an old, dirty raincoat. He makes her out to be a particularly practical woman, who chooses to get her raincoat cleaned rather than buy his book. The fact that Kooser's "ideal" reader chooses not to buy his book tells us that he is in no way materialistic.

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In “Selecting a Reader,” poet Ted Kooser imagining what his ideal reader would be like.  It is full of imagery describing this perfect reader, who is “beautiful” (line 1), and of course female, but she does not have much money and wears a dirty raincoat. 

The speaker does not limit himself to the physical though. His ideal reader would also be “walking carefully up on [his] poetry/at the loneliest moment of an afternoon” (lines 2-3).   The poem also uses irony, because the reader does not actually buy the book!  Instead, the reader just thumbs through his book and says “For that kind of money, I can get my raincoat cleaned” (lines 11-12).  Thus, at the end of the poem the perfect reader has not chosen to buy the book.  She gets her raincoat cleaned instead.

Interestingly enough, by the end of the poem the speaker has indeed made a difference in the woman’s life.  His poetry seems to have reached her somehow, even though she did not buy the book.  After all, she now has a clean rain coat!

 Citation:

Kooser, Ted. "Selecting a Reader." Poetry 180 -. Poetry 180. Web. 16 May 2012. <http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/053.html>.

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