Historical Context

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Kooser was a single parent when he wrote this poem in 1970, and the love that he expresses for his son elicits a warm feeling in readers. The United States in the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a dramatic rise in the divorce rate. In 1970 in the United States there...

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Kooser was a single parent when he wrote this poem in 1970, and the love that he expresses for his son elicits a warm feeling in readers. The United States in the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a dramatic rise in the divorce rate. In 1970 in the United States there were 709,000 divorces, or 3.5 for every 1,000 marriages, up from 393,000 in 1960, or 2.3 for every 1,000 marriages. Custody of children, though, was most often awarded to mothers, with father's granted visitation rights, often on weekends. As such, the image of the speaker in his car with his son, expressing the joy he feels at having him for the weekend, is a familiar one for Americans. A number of films dealing with the trauma of divorce and custody came out during the 1970's, the most notable one being 1979's Kramer Vs. Kramer, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Kooser's most autobiographical work came out of his own experience with divorce. In 1978 he published Old Marriage and New with Cold Mountain Press. This collection of 13 "scenes" recounts the difficulty of that period in his life.

Kooser wrote "The Constellation Orion" in 1970, just three years after M. L. Rosenthal's study, The New Poets was published. In that book Rosen-thal coins the term "confessional poetry" to designate a kind of poetry which foregrounds open and honest communication between writers and their audience, and frequently eschews what they consider artifice in their craft. Confessionalism had been in vogue for some time before then, as evidenced in Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell, whose Life Studies is widely considered to be a hallmark of confessional poetry. Confessionalism was a response to much of the formal poetry being written during the 1940s and 1950s, but it also embodied an air of possibility, and assumed that direct transcription of experience itself was a poetic act. The popularity of psychoanalysis during this period also helped the "cause" of confessional poetry, as poets frequently packed their work with personal details not traditionally included in poems. Kooser, though not a confessional poet in the traditional sense, does share the impulse to literally transcribe personal experience in his poems, though much of that experience rests on literal descriptions of the natural world, and not always or necessarily his emotional responses to that world.

Literary Style

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Though it is told in the present tense, "The Constellation Orion" functions as a humorous anecdote. Anecdotes are short stories, often conversational, told about a particular event. The use of dialogue in this poem also underscores that conversational quality, and its use of non-literary language. This anecdote also includes puns, in the form of the father's calling his son's head "a small sun" and the son's mispronunciation of the "constellation Orion." Puns work when words have identical or similar sounds, but are very different in meaning. The effect of Kooser's puns is to render the child "cute" for readers, and to highlight the intimacy among the father, son, and constellation.

The poem employs figurative language throughout. He uses personification and metaphor to describe the constellation's appearance, saying that he sees Orion "lying there in your hammock." In addressing the constellation directly, Kooser employs apostrophe. Apostrophe is a direct address to an abstract entity or to an absent person. Keats, for example, apostrophizes a Grecian urn in his well-known poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

In comparing his son's head to "a small sun in my lap," Kooser uses a simile. Similes are "like" metaphors in that they compare two distinctly different things, but they are indicated by the word "like" or "as." This comparison also parallels his description of Orion in that both son and Orion are resting: Orion in his hammock, the son in his father's lap.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Bauval, Robert, The Orion Mystery: Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids, Great Britain: William Heinemann, 1994. Gioia, Dana, Can Poetry Matter?, St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1992.

Graves, Robert, Greek Myths, New York: Penguin, 1990.

Kooser, Ted, One World at a Time, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

Kooser, Ted, Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.

Kooser, Ted, Weather Central, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.

Moore, Patrick, Passion for Astronomy, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.

"Nebraska Center for Writers," http://mockingbird xreighton.edu/NCW/kooscrit.htm.

Rosenthal, M.L., The New Poets, New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Sanders, Mark, On Common Ground: The Poetry of William Kloefkorn, Ted Kooser, Greg Kuzma, and Don Welch, Lincoln, NE: Sandhills Press, 1983.

Windle, Ralph, The Poetry of Business Life: An Anthology, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1994.

For Further Study
Bauval, Robert, The Orion Mystery: Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids, New York: Crown, 1994.
This archaeological detective story argues that the great pyramids of Egypt's Fourth Dynasty (c. 2600-2400 b.c.) were vast astronomically sophisticated temples. Using astronomical data about stellar movement, the book argues that the Orion stars coincide exactly with the pyramids' positions in approximately 10,400 b.c.—a period the Egyptians called the First Time, when they believed the god Osiris ruled the Earth.

Kooser, Ted, Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.
This collection includes "The Constellation Orion" and poems from a number of other Kooser titles, many of them out of print. Readers will get a full sense of Kooser's range from this collection.

Kooser, Ted, "Lying for the Sake of Making Poems," in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 72, No. 1, spring 1998, p. 5.
This is a valuable essay for understanding how Kooser conceptualizes the writing of his poems. He discusses lyric poetry and what his own expectations for it are, as well as what he believes readers expect from it.

Compare and Contrast

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1971: Henry Kissinger secretly visits China to arrange visit for President Nixon, marking the beginning of an era of detente between the two countries. China is admitted into the United Nations.

Today: Although tensions remain, diplomatic relations between China and the United States have been largely normalized, and it appears likely that China will gain entry into the World Trade Organization.

1971: U.S. Apollo 14 and 15 crews become the third and fourth groups to explore the moon's surface. In the same year three Russian cosmonauts die when their Soyuz 11 capsule develops an air leak when reentering the earth's atmosphere.

1971: American astronomers discover two "new" galaxies adjacent to the earth's own galaxy, the Milky Way.

1972: The crew of Apollo 17 spends a record 75 hours on the moon's surface.

1998: The Lunar Prospector is launched. This is the first time in 25 years that NASA sent a probe to the Moon.

Today: The Mir Space Station floats above the earth, having completed to date over 77,300 trips around the Earth. In its thirteen years in orbit, cosmonauts and astronauts from dozens of nations have lived on the station and performed experiments of historical significance.

1971: Legalized off track betting is introduced in New York.

Today: The institution of gambling has become naturalized and legal in most states. Casinos, state-sponsored lotteries, video poker, and horse and dog track betting generate large sums of revenue for states.

Media Adaptations

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The Nebraska Center for Writers has an informational website on Ted Kooser and his poetry: http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/NCW/kooser .htm.

For a real-time look at Orion and other constellations on the World Wide Web, visit the following site: http://math1.uibk.ac.at/~werner/ light/stars/orion.html.

Visit the following website which satirizes the use of malapropisms: http://www.execpc.com/ %7Ejab2/MainPage.htm.

This World Wide Web site provides useful information on the myths behind the names of the constellations:http://www.dibonsmi th.com/stars .htm.

An online message board designed to help single fathers with day-to-day issues of child rearing can be accessed at http://www.angelfire .com/ks/singlefather/.

The Fathering Magazine contains many useful articles on single fathers and the joys (and pitfalls) of fathering, http://www.fathermag.com/ SingleFather.shtml.

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