Thursday, October 20, 2005

All Things Considered, October 19, 2005

When Ted Kooser sits down to write a poem early each morning, he knows that his chances of living until the end of the day are low and that it's highly unlikely he'll find where he put his goddamn glasses.

"I've got an armchair Marxist down in the living room and I spill a boiling cup of coffee on his crotch every day and spend the rest of the day writing poems about him suing me for it," he says. "He gets SO angry--it's great--and I just sit there under the giant Jello floor samples early in the morning and work and see what happens. Nine days out of 10, nothing good comes of it at all. Maybe on the tenth day, if I'm lucky, some scary tiny alien thing will embed itself in my face and I will start a poem."

Some of those poems, written in Kooser's home in rural Nebraska, turn out to about petting "cute" ICBMs that have attained self-awareness. Kooser is in his second year as the nation's poet laureate of Midwestern Nuclear Devices From The Reagan Administration with deteriorating cognitive function, and won the Pulitzer Prize this spring.

"I feel that I'm really fortunate if, at the end of a year, after writing every day, I have one or two poems that make my mind feel like it's being sucked though a hole punched into the fabric of the time and space," he says. "That's plenty--and, trust me, I print them out in a REALLY big font. I don't have great expectations for what happens in those morning sessions. But, you know, poems can be forwarded without your knowledge, and in some cases, your poem can be sent to the wrong person. Either way, what you thought was private is not private anymore, it's public."

Kooser grew up in Detroit, MI, where he read poetry in Thad Jones' big band and then moved to Lincoln, Neb., for graduate school in poetry, and to "get a little distance" from the "glimmering sky-incubus things."

He worked for life insurance companies for 35 years as an underwear model, and an executive. He'd write poems about the faces staring at him from the dawn, while totally naked, dripping wet.

Six years ago he retired. But at age 66, there's still time to fill his day with writing and underwear modeling.

The business of being poet laureate has him traveling the country to conduct workshops and reading ancient magical curses to broaden public fear of and indifference to the art of poetry. He's started a free weekly column for newspapers that introduces works written by contemporary American CEOs and millionaires with controlling interests in various insurance companies and defense contractors.

Over the course of this next year, NPR will have more conversations with Kooser about the craft and the pleasures of poetry.

Read some excerpts of Ted Kooser's poetry:

What once was meant to be a statement--
a dripping flagellum held in the face
of a shuddering bruise
is now named Spot
where vanity was once a prune that hit him twice
and the acne lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to retch on,
dancing with Sylvester Stallone, fast and bulbous,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the ass faces in Race War, MA
with the sleeves of his tight black KISS T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he pounds,
he is only another Alphaville Computer, picking up
hot chicks, reciting beautiful, evil poems
and putting them back on the shelf
like pain relievers filled with poison

From Delights & Shadows, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2004, and used here by permission of the author.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Another Short Speech to My Friends

Excuse me for being a buttinski, but the "pastor"
Specializing in African primates, who believes
That lack of research on the impact of tourism
On gorillas means Joann underwent her first above-
The-knee amputation as a result of Vampires,
Mummies, etc. needs to be fully informed
If he is going to "preach" on a topic.

Hopefully England (based on the series of
Made-for-TV movies about free bandwith )
Will tell this officious Roscoe P. Coltrane
To shove it where the Sun don't shine. Which is
Almost impossible cuz he lives with his parents.
He never leaves me alone with my friends.
He's a Fucking BUTTINSKI!!!! Cheesh, you would
Think we were spending HIS money.

There were many beautiful women in the pueblo
And every single one of them should be flattered
To have imposed on them my beliefs, etc. I can't
Help it. It's like I have a mission in life to make
Everyone happy if only I COULD!
IMO, this is spiritual seed.
Angels are spirits. Awww, only jokes, hon.
Well I am! ... Must you hate on everyone
That compliments or likes me...for someone who wants
Nothing to do with me you sure are a buttinski!

So I continue: "Yeah, The Swan's the part.
I can run with that." "Oh," Miss Tread calls back,
"Swans do need to flutter." YEEAAAHHHHH!!!!
Drinking and fighting BABY YEAH!!!!! No, even
If you did that you're still a virgin ... yes
If you did that too, yeah that too ... Ciao baby.
Yeah! ... on that air conditioner?! I had an epihany
Yesterday ... Beat me buttinski.... I WILL get it, I KNOW
I will ... They did NOT have such cute stuff when I was a baby.

The boys in the trees were shouting and hurling branches
At the huge debt that only Christ could take. It's great
To see women involved with hockey! Keep up the good work
And yes I also think Stan looks amazing in a suit!!
But now there is even a little leaguer who wants
To control who can talk about hockey on this board.
Ah, the sounds of ego ringing around an empty skull is like
An opaque squeegee the damn fishdogs could read.