How is 2017 going for you? I am here to eat some cold, leftover crow about Ted Kooser. I wrote on Facebook about how he won a chapbook prize I had submitted to, then I wrote about him in my blog and stated that he wrote at 5 a.m. before his mail-carrier shifts. Well, I've been a bit obsessed with Mr. Kooser this past week. I forgot how electrifying his writing is and wrote a lesson plan using one of his poems "Abandoned Farmhouse," as a prompt. But, in my research I realized TED KOOSER WAS NEVER A MAILMAN. Here is his correct bio:

Ted Kooser is a poet and essayist, a Presidential Professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He served as the U. S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, and his book Delights & Shadows won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. His writing is known for its clarity, precision and accessibility. He worked for many years in the life insurance business, retiring in 1999 as a vice president. He and his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, the retired editor of The Lincoln Journal Star, live on an acreage near the village of Garland, Nebraska. He has a son, Jeff, and a granddaughter, Margaret.

So, he sold insurance. But still, same thing, meaning that the man earned two of the highest honors a poet could ever hope for, and he accomplished it by writing at 5 a.m. each day before work. So, think of this post as a celebration of Ted Kooser, one of my favorites. If you are a writer, try the prompt (below)! You can write about yourself or from a character's point of view. If you are not a writer, think about what your things say about you anyway. 

I know I said that I wasn't going to make a lot of New Year's resolutions, but I am continuing to get rid of stuff. I've been getting rid of a lot of things the last couple of years, and I am pretty much down to one thing I am hanging onto that I find neither useful nor beautiful: my stash of journals (a lifetime's worth). A few months ago a wise and honest friend, incredulous that I had kept them all, asked me if I ever thought of burning some of them. The thing is, whenever I go back and read them, I remember that I am not such a great diarist, never have been. They are mostly free-writes, and they have all been culled over for poem-making.

I was reminded of Mr. Kooser yet again while re-reading them. I used to save cut lines from poems in a word doc, sometimes finding them homes in other poems, or using them to jumpstart a new piece. I took a workshop with Mr. Kooser at The Nature of Words literary festival (RIP) and he told me to stop that. He said he moves on, each day, to a new poem. Not that he finishes a new poem every day, but that he starts one. That he follows what is in the now and doesn't hang on to old bits of language, or old thoughts. He actually didn't say all that, he basically just said "No, no, never. I move on," in his gruff plains-of-Nebraska way and kind of looked at me like I was crazy. I was 25, so I probably was. But I did stop doing that.

But I have all these journals that no one would even be able to read, let alone understand if they outlived me. They literally make no sense. So. Why am I saving them? Mr. Kooser, may I call you Ted, would you like to come over for a bonfire? Because I got some words to burn. 

  Ted Kooser, US Poet Laureate, 2004    “I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”        Abandoned Farmhouse     Ted Kooser       He was a big man, says the size of his shoes   on a pile of broken dishes by the house;    a tall man too, says the length of the bed   in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,   says the Bible with a broken back   on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;   but not a man for farming, say the fields   cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.    A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall   papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves   covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,   says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.   Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves   and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.   And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.   It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.    Something went wrong, says the empty house   in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields   say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars   in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.   And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard   like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,   a rusty tractor with a broken plow,   a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.      Prompt:  What would your things say about you?  Be as specific as possible.       http://www.tedkooser.net/      

Ted Kooser, US Poet Laureate, 2004

“I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”

 

Abandoned Farmhouse

Ted Kooser

 

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house; 
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
 

Prompt: What would your things say about you? Be as specific as possible. 

 

http://www.tedkooser.net/