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On the Same Page with Ted Kooser

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Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, was the first poet from the Great Plains to hold the position. On this episode of On the Same Page Kooser discusses his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, and his Pulitzer Prize winning collection Delights and Shadows.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual is described as a guidebook to making and revising poems, written in the tone of a patient friend who is willing to share everything hes learned about the art hes spent a lifetime creating. Delights and Shadows features Koosers trademark poetry that unites seemingly dissimilar items to illuminate the remarkable within an otherwise ordinary world.

A Presidential Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he is the author of 12 full-length collections of poetry. Following the interview, host Tommy Sanders speaks with panelists Hope Norman Coulter, adjunct professor of English at Hendrix College, and Ben Molini, a Hendrix sophomore.

Transcript

HI, WELCOME TO AETN PRESENTS "ON THE SAME PAGE." WHEN IT COMES TO POETS WE HAVE BEEN LUCKY ON OUR SHOW IN THE LAST CALENDAR YEAR TWICE WE HAVE HAD TWO OF THE POETS THAT CAN RECEIVE THE HIGHEST AWARD YOU CAN GET. IN 2006 IT WAS BILLY COLLINS. THAT HE HAD WE WILL VISIT WITH THE MAN FROM LINCOLN, NEBRASKA, TED KOOSER. AFTER OUR VISIT WITH HIM WE WILL TALK WITH THE PANEL OF READERS ABOUT HIS WORK AND THE TWO BOOKS WE ARE FEATURING HIS LATEST COLLECTION, "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS" AND ANOTHER BOOK, "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL," A BOOK ABOUT CREATING POEMS. WE WILL HAVE YOUR PANEL LATER AND RIGHT NOW OUR VISIT WITH TED KOOSER.

WE'RE HERE FOR THIS EDITION OF ON THE SAME PAGE AT MURPHY HOUSE ON THE CAMPUS OF HENDRIX COLLEGE IN CONWAY AND THE MURPHY VISITING POET AT THIS TIME WE ARE TAPING THIS PROGRAM IS TED KOOSER. TED KOOSER WAS THE POET LAUREATE FOR THE UNITED STATES 2004 TO 2006, WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR THIS COLLECTION CALLED "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS" WHICH THE PRIZE WAS AWARDED IN 2005, I THINK. THE BOOK CAME OUT IN 2004. HE IS THE RECIPIENT OF NUMEROUS OTHER PRIZES AND RECOGNITION IN THE WORLD OF POETRY, A NATIVE OF AMES, IOWA.

GREW UP IN AMES.

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE FROM IOWA STATE.

RIGHT.

AND YOUR MASTERS DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA. WELCOME.

THANK YOU.

WELCOME TO CONWAY. HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR STAY. THIS BOOK WE HAVE MENTIONED, "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS," THE ONE I WOULD LIKE TO START WITH IS YOUR NEWEST BOOK AS I UNDERSTAND IT, "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL." THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH COLLECTION, IT IS HOW TO MAKE POETRY.

I TEACH POETRY WRITING TO IMRAD WAIT STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA. I AM A HALF-TIME PROFESSOR THERE. THIS IS A COMPILATION OF THINGS I TOLD EACH STUDENTS OVER THE YEARS, AND I FINALLY DECIDED I COULD SEE IF I COULD GET IT ALL BETWEEN COVERS. IT HAS BEEN WELL-RECEIVED.

DID YOU INTEND IT JUST FOR STUDENTS? OR IS IT FOR ANYONE WHO IS INTERESTED?

ACTUALLY, FOR ANYONE. AS A MATTER OF FACT I WOULD LIKE IT VERY MUCH IF PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE SLIGHTEST INTEREST IN WRITING WOULD LOOK AT IT. I DO THINK IT COULD BE HELPFUL.

I WOULD IMAGINE, THIS IS PROBABLY TAKING THE PLACE OF SOME TEXTBOOKS IN SOME CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAMS. I'M SURE YOU HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING HOW EXTENSIVELY.

I CAN'T RELISH THAT IT HAS TAKEN THE PLACE OF OTHER TEXTBOOKS BUT, YES, IT PROBABLY HAS.

AND "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL," HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE NAME FOR THAT?

OH, I HAVE NO IDEA OTHER THAN I AM SORT OF A TINKERER AND I THOUGHT HOME REPAIR WAS ALSO A WAY OF TAKING THE ELEVATED NATURE OUT OF POETRY WRITING. I THOUGHT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT BASIC TOOLS HERE.

YOU KIND OF START -- THIS IS UNUSUAL. YOU KIND OF START THE BOOK, YOU DRAW THE READER IN SORT OF BY DEFLATING POETRY, TALKING ABOUT HOW IT IS UNDERVALUED IN OUR WORLD AND SOCIETY. AND IT IS FASCINATING THE WAY YOU DO IT. AND IT TRULY IS AN UNDERVALUED QUANTITY OF WORK.

YES, INDEED.

YOU MAKE A GREAT ANALOGY YOU COULD TAKE THE MANUSCRIPT FROM T.S. ELLIOT'S GREATEST COLLECTION TO ANY CONVENIENT STORE IN THE TOWN WHERE YOU LIVE AND NO ONE WOULD GIVE YOU TEN GALLONS OF GAS.

ONE GALLON OF GAS.

IS THAT WHAT YOU SAID?

I PROBABLY SAID TEN. FRANKLY I DON'T THINK YOU COULD GET A CANDY BAR FOR THAT MANUSCRIPT.

YOU GET PAST THAT ADD MOW MISSION AND YOU GET INTO HOW TO MAKE POEMS. HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT -- HOW DID YOU START IN TELLING SOMEONE HOW TO BECOME A POET? HOW TO WRITE A POEM?

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, OF COURSE, IS GETTING THEM TO READ POETRY AND READ A LOT OF IT. I ASKED MY GRADUATE STUDENTS TO READ 100 POEMS FOR EVERY ONE THEY TRY TO WRITE BECAUSE YOU LEARN SO MUCH FROM THAT, BY EXAMPLE. AND THEN ALSO I EMPHASIZE SOMETHING IN HERE THAT I THINK IS VERY IMPORTANT AND A LOT OF POETS WOULD DISAGREE ABOUT THIS. I THINK WE HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THE READER ON THE OTHER END OF THIS THING, WHAT ARE THE READER'S EXPECTATIONS? WHAT IS THE READER GOING TO GET OUT OF A POEM?

YOU MAKE A GREAT POINT ABOUT WHY POETRY SOMETIMES IS DIFFICULT AND INACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE. BECAUSE IT IS CRAFTED THAT WAY. SOMETIMES BECAUSE POETS THINK IT HAS TO BE CRAFTED THAT WAY IN ORDER TO GAIN THE RIGHT SORT OF ATTENTION.

THAT'S A HUGE -- THAT'S A HUGE AREA OF DISCUSSION. BUT IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE THAT A LOT OF POETRY IS DIFFICULT BECAUSE CRITICS LOVE DIFFICULTIES AND CRITICS ESTABLISH REPUTATIONS. AND SO THE POETS ARE GIVING THE CRITICS SOMETHING TO INTERPRET UPON WHICH THE CRI CRITICS CAN D THEIR CAREER AND PULL THE POETS ALONG WITH THEM.

WE ARE TALKING WITH TED KOOSER WHO IS THE MURPHY VISITING POET HERE AT HENDRIX COLLEGE AS WE TAPE THIS PROGRAM. FORMER UNITED STATES POET LAUREATE, WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR HIS WORK "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS." DID YOU -- LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR START IN THE WORLD OF POETRY. DID YOU SET OUT TO BE ONE OF THESE DIFFICULT, INACCESSIBLE POETS?

THE MAIN EMPHASIS FOR ME AS A VERY YOUNG MAN WRITING POEMS WAS GIRLS. THAT'S WHAT I WAS MOSTLY INTERESTED IN. I THOUGHT I DIDN'T HAVE A WHOLE LOT ELSE GOING FOR ME. I HAD NO ATHLETIC ABILITY. I COULDN'T PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. I COULDN'T DO ANY OF THOSE THINGS. I THOUGHT, YOU KNOW, MAYBE POETRY WOULD WORK. SO THAT'S REALLY WHAT DROVE ME INTO IT, I THINK. IF YOU ASK A LOT OF YOUNG ARTISTS OR PEOPLE IN THE ARTS COMMUNITY, IF THEY WERE HONEST ABOUT IT, SEX IS AT THE BASIS OF A LOT OF THAT.

AND MANY OTHER PURSUITS AS WELL, I WOULD IMAGINE.

IT IS AT THE BASIS OF EVERYTHING, OF COURSE,.

AND OBVIOUSLY -- WELL I DON'T GUESS WE ARE GOING TO EXPECT AN EARLY COLLECTION OF POEMS TO THOSE GIRLS.

NO, THEY ARE ALL GONE. MY HIGH SCHOOL GIRLFRIEND, WHEN WE BROKE UP, SUPPOSEDLY BURNED MANY OF MY POEMS THAT I HAD WRITTEN FOR HER WHICH IS A VERY GOOD THING THAT THEY ARE NO LONGER OUT THERE.

WHERE DID THE MOST ENGAGING POINTS COME FROM? DID IT COME FROM GREAT IDEAS? OR FROM MEMORIES? ARE THEY FULL BLOWN? ARE THEY FRAGMENTS WHEN THEY OCCUR TO YOU?

THE WAY I WRITE, THE POEMS SORT OF HAPPEN. I SIT DOWN AND TRY TO WRITE SOMETHING AND WHATEVER IT IS EMERGES FROM THAT ACTIVITY AS MUCH AS ANYTHING ELSE. AND 28 DAYS OUT OF 30, I AM A COMPLETE FAILURE AT IT. WHAT I WRITE IS JUST JUNK. IF AT THE END OF THE YEAR I HAVE WRITTEN TEN POEMS THAT I REALLY LIKE -- AND THAT'S WRITING EVERY DAY -- THEN I FEEL REALLY GOOD ABOUT IT.

TEN POEMS OUT OF MAYBE 100? 150? 200?

YEAH, YEAH, PRETTY MUCH EVERY DAY I AM WORKING AT IT. SO, YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT.

YOU SAY IN YOUR WORK THAT IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO BE IN THERE EVERY DAY. YOU DON'T SIT, YOU DON'T WAIT FOR INSPIRATION.

SHOW UP FOR WORK.

SHOWING UP FOR WORK IS YOUR POINT THERE.

YEAH.

YEAH. YOU SET OUT, OF COURSE, AS YOU SAY TO BE A POET. YOUR EDUCATION WAS TOWARD THAT END. YET, YOU TOOK OFF ON ANOTHER CAREER TO PAY THE BILLS BECAUSE AS YOU POINT OUT IN THE BOOK "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL," POETRY WILL NOT BUY YOU BAG OF GROCERIES. SO YOU TOOK OFF ON ANOTHER CAREER. ARE WE DEPRIVED OF A LOT OF YOUR WORK BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T HAVE THE TIME TO BE THERE EVERY DAY?

I WORKED FOR MANY YEARS AT A DESK AT AN INSURANCE COMPANY. BUT I DID ALL MY WRITING BEFORE I WENT TO WORK. AND I WROTE EVERY DAY. SO I WOULD GET UP AT 4:30 AND WRITE UNTIL 7:00 AND GET MY NECK TIE ON AND GO OFF AND WORK AT THE OFFICE. YOU KNOW, I KNEW THAT I WAS, YOU KNOW, NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO SUPPORT MYSELF AS A WRITER.

YOU -- DO YOU STILL GET UP AT 4:30 EVERY DAY?

I DO. I DIDN'T TODAY. BUT ALMOST EVERY DAY.

IT IS A SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCE HERE.

WHEN I AM AT HOME, SURE, I DO.

YOU MENTIONED THAT RATIO OF 150 TO 200 TO 10 POEMS IN A YEAR'S TIME THAT YOU THINK ARE REALLY GOOD. JUDGING YOUR WORK IS PROBABLY NOT THE EASIEST THING TO DO. HAVE YOU WRITTEN A POEM AND YOU THOUGHT IT WAS NOT QUITE WORTH I DIDN'T AND SOMEBODY ELSE LOOKED AT IT AND THOUGHT IT WAS GREAT?

IT IS MORE OFTEN THAT I LOOK AT POEMS THAT PEOPLE THINK ISN'T ANY GOOD. I HAD A NUMBER OF POEMS YEARS AGO, I SAID I THINK THIS IS THE GREATEST POEM I HAVE EVER WRITTEN, HERE IT IS. WOULD YOU PUBLISH IT? HE WROTE BACK AND SAID, NO, IT ISN'T. SO THAT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, SURE.

YOU WOULD ADVISE POETS TO BE AWARE OF THEIR PRESENCE IN THE POEM. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

WELL, TO THINK ABOUT HOW THE POET COMES ACROSS AS A PERSONALITY IN THE POEM, I THINK, AS MUCH AS ANYTHING? A PERSON THAT THE READER IS GOING TO WARM TO OR BE TURNED OFF BY OR BE EVEN REPELLED BY, BE ANGERED BY.

YOU SAY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR THE POET TO BE AWARE OF THIS.

YEAH. YOU CAN GO IN ANY DIRECTION YOU WANT TO AS LONG AS YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT WHAT'S ON THE OTHER END OF THAT COMMUNICATION. THAT ANONYMOUS PERSON, MILES FROM YOU, IS GOING TO READ THAT POEM. YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR. POETS ALL THE TIME SAY WELL, NOBODY IS BUYING BOOKS OF POETRY. THEY WON'T BUY BOOKS OF POETRY. WE HAVE TO WRITE BOOKS THAT THEY WANT TO BUY. THAT'S THE WAY IT WORKS.

THIS IS, OF COURSE, THE BOOK WE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT, THEE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL" BY TED KOOSER, THE COLLECTION FOR WHICH YOU RECEIVED THE PULITZER PRIZE IN 2005 IS "DELIGHTS AND THIS IS A GREAT COLLECTION. BROKEN UP INTO FOUR CHAPTERS. DO YOU CALL THEM CHAPTERS OR SECTIONS?

I WOULD CALL THEM SECTIONS.

I'M GOING TO READ THE NAMES OF THESE JUST TO SATISFY MY CURIOSITY. THE VAGUE -- NOT THE VAGUE, BUT THE GENERAL THEME OF EACH OF ONE OF THOSE CHAPTERS, THE FIRST CHAPTER IS CALLED WALKING ON TIP TOE.

WELL, THAT ONE -- THESE POEMS ARE SORT OF CLUSTERED BY SIMILARITY IN A WAY BUT NOT A WHOLE LOT.

NOT NECESSARILY ON A THEME?

THOSE ARE POEMS THAT ARE LESS PERSONAL AND ARE MORE ABOUT LOOKING ON AT THE OTHER WORLD.

YOU HAVE A SECOND CHAPTER WHICH SEEMS TO BE MORE ABOUT THINGS TO ME CALLED THE CHINA PAINTERS.

IT IS ABOUT THINGS AND IT IS ALSO ABOUT THAT GENERATION OF WOMEN THAT MY MOTHER WAS AMONG WHO DID THINGS LIKE CHINA PAINTING AND COOKING, THAT SORT OF THING. NOT THAT WOMEN DON'T COOK ANYMORE, BUT IT WAS SUCH A BIG PART OF THEIR LIVES.

THIRD CHAPTER IS BANK, FISHING FOR BLUEGILLS. SORRY FOR ME BEING A LOW-RENT POETRY CRITIC. IT SEEMS TO ME TO BE ABOUT DEATH. IS IT?

IT IS IN A WAY ABOUT DEATH. IT IS ALSO ANOTHER SECTION OF POEMS IN WHICH I AM NOT TERRIBLY PRESENT AND I AM LOOKING ON.

"AND THAT WAS I" IS THE FOURTH CHAPTER.

THOSE ARE THE MOST PERSONAL POEMS. THE POEM FOR WHICH THAT SECTION IS NAMED IS A SELF-PROPEPORTRAIF ME OUT IN THE WORLD.

WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DISCUSSION ABOUT THIS WITH OUR PANEL OF READERS HERE IN JUST A MOMENT BUT GOING TO PREVAIL ON MR. KOOSER TO READ ONE OF THE POEMS CALLED MEMORY. ONE OF MY FAVORITES IN THIS BOOK.

THIS IS A POEM ABOUT THE WAY THAT WE EMPLOY MEMORY AS WRITERS. WE SWEEP UP EVERYTHING IN OUR MEMORY AND WE WRITE IT ALL DOWN AND THEN WE MAKE SOMETHING OF IT, SORT OF THROUGH THE REVISION PROCESS. "MEMORY." SPINNING UP DUST AND CORN SCHUCKS IS ACROSS THE CHALKY EXHAUSTED FIELDS. IT IS SUCKED UP INTO ITS HEART, HARD WORK, COLD WORK, LUNCH BUCKETS, GOOD HORSES, BAD HORSES AND THE NAMES OF MULES THAT WERE BETTER OR WORSE THAN HORSES. RATTLED THE TIN SIZE OF THE THRESHING MACHINE, SHOOK THE MANURE SPREADING, CRANKED THE TRACT FOR'S CRAK THAT BROKE THE UNCLE'S ARM AND THEN SWEPT ON THROUGH THE WIND BREAK TAKING THE TREE HOUSE AND DIRTY MAGAZINES, TURNING ITS FURY ON THE BARN WHERE COWS KICKED OVER BUCKETS AND THE GRAY CAT SAT FOR A SQUIRT OF MILK IN ITS WHISKERS. PLUCKED A WARM BROWN EGG FROM THE MEANEST HAND AND THEN TURNED TOWARD THE HOUSE WHERE THRESHERS WERE HAVING DINNER. PALED BACK THE ROOF AND THE KITCHEN CEILING, REACHED DOWN AND SNATCHED UP UNCLES AND COUSINS, GRANDMA, GRANDPA, PARENTS AND CHILDREN ONE BY ONE, HELD THEM LIKE DOLLS. LOOKED LONG AND LONGINGLY INTO THEIR FACES. THEN SET THEM BACK IN THEIR CHAIRS WITH BLUE AND WHITE PLATTERS OF CHICKEN AND HAM AND MASHED POTATOES STILL STEAMING BEFORE THEM WITH BOATS OF GRAVY AND BOWLS OF PEAS AND THREE KINDS OF PIE. AND SUDDENLY WITH A SOUND LIKE A SIGH, DREW UP ITS CROWDED ROARING DUSTY FUNNEL AND THERE AT ITS TIP WAS A NIB OF A PEN.

IF YOU LIKE ACTION IN YOUR POETRY, HERE IS YOUR MAN. THIS ONE IS ACTION-PACKED. WE CAUGHT UP WITH TED KOOSER HERE AT HENDRIX COLLEGE IN CONWAY. THAT'S FROM "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS," A COLLECTION FROM 2004. THE NEWEST BOOK, "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL," ENVOY YOUR VISIT TO ARKANSAS. THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US.

THANK YOU.

WE WILL HAVE A QUICK BREAK AND WE WILL BE BACK WITH THE PANEL OF READERS TO DISCUSS THE WORK OF TED KOOSER. SO STICK AROUND.

WE ARE READY TO GO WITH OUR DISCUSSION OF TED KOOSER BOOKS. WE HAD OUR READERS IN PLACE. WE DIDN'T HAVE TO GO TOO PAR TO BEHIND THEM. HOPE NORMAN COULTER IS AN ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH AT HENDRIX COLLEGE. SHE TEACHES POETRY. IS A PUBLISHED POET AS WELL. BEN MOLINI, ARE YOU AN ENGLISH MAJOR?

YES.

SOPHOMORE HERE FROM KANSAS CITY. I WILL START WITH YOU, BEN, YOU JUST TOLD ME BEFORE WE STARTED ROLLING HERE THAT THIS IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE TEXTBOOKS IN YOUR CLASS, "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL." IS IT A GOOD ONE?

I LIKE IT A LOT. I HAD TO READ IT BEFORE DR. COULTER'S CLASS.

YOU NOT ONLY WANTED TO READ IT BUT YOU HAD TO READ IT.

WE HAD SEVERAL TEXTBOOKS. AND I HAVE BEEN INTO POETRY FOR SOME TIME AND SO A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO KNOW THAT BUT DON'T KNOW ME VERY WELL LIKE TO GIVE ME BOOKS ABOUT WRITING. SO I READ A LOT OF THEM AND I SEE THEM. BUT I LIKE TED KOOSER BECAUSE HE CONSISTENTLY MAKES FUN OF HIMSELF AND OF POETRY IN THE WHOLE BOOK.

WHY DOES THAT APPEAL TO YOU?

BECAUSE HE IS SO UNPRETENTIOUS AND THE HOME REPAIR MANUAL WAS A GREAT NAME FOR THE BOOK BECAUSE IT WAS REAL BASIC, IT WAS REAL DOWN TO EARTH. HE MADE A LOT OF JOKES ABOUT YOU DO WHAT WORKS. YOU DO WHAT SOUNDS GOOD, WHAT YOU ENJOY AND WHAT PEOPLE WILL ENJOY. I REALLY LIKE THAT. KIND OF REAL LET'SISTIC, DOWN TO EARTH PERSONAL, UNPRETENTIOUS APPROACH TO POETRY. I THINK IT IS MISSING OUT THERE.

HOPE, YOU CHOSE THE BOOK FOR THE CLASS. YOU OBVIOUSLY THINK IT IS PRETTY GOOD. WHY DO YOU LIKE IT?

I KNEW THAT TED KOOSER WAS COMING. I WANTED THE STUDENTS TO HAVE A GOOD BACKGROUND IN READING HIS WORK. BUT WHEN I PICKED UP "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL" I WAS SO PLACED BECAUSE IT SAID A LOT OF THINGS ABOUT POETRY THAT I HAPPENED TO AGREE WITH. I ALSO THOUGHT THAT HE WAS REALLY UNAFFECTED AND MODEST. I LIKE THOSE QUALITIES. A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK POETRY IS AN ESOTERIC THING AND BELONGS TO THIS REALM, IT IS EITHER SO ABSTRACT YOU CANNED UNDERSTAND IT OR IT IS VERY GOSSAMER AND FLOATY. HE IS REAL DOWN TO EARTH AND BRING IT IS INTO THE REALM OF ORDINARY LIFE AND ORDINARY PEOPLE.

YOU START THE BOOK, WE TALKED ABOUT THIS IN THE INTERVIEW BY DEVALUING POETRY IN A WAY OR AT LEAST TALKING ABOUT HOW IT IS DEVALUED IN OUR SOCIETY. IS THAT A GOOD WAY TO START A BOOK ON LEARNING HOW TO WRITE POEMS? DOES THAT DRAW YOU IN IN A REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY SORT OF WAY?

TO THE STUDENTS, I THINK SO. I READ A LOT OF BOOKS. IT ALWAYS STARTS OUT WITH THE INCREDIBLE POWER OF POETRY AND THE AMAZING THINGS YOU CAN DO. AND TED KOOSER STARTED OUT, I USED TO TRY TO GET GIRLS THIS WAY. AND I REMEMBER, I THOUGHT THAT WAS REALLY FUNNY JUST BECAUSE I ENJOY WRITING POETRY. I DO IT FOR MYSELF. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE DO. I HAVE DONE IT FOR OTHER PEOPLE. I HAVE GOTTEN INTO SLAM PERFORMANCE POETRY. IT IS ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE TO A LARGE EXTENT IN MY MIND. I REALLY APPRECIATED THAT HE JUST -- HE SAID, LOOK, YOUR POETRY SHOULD BE ACCESSIBLE. IT SHOULD BE WHAT YOU LIKE. AND IT SHOULD BE WHAT YOUR READERS WILL LIKE. HE JUST IMMEDIATELY CUT AWAY ALL THE PRETENSION AND THE EXTRA ASSOCIATIONS PEOPLE HAVE OF POETRY.

YOU MENTIONED SLAM POETRY, POETRY SLAMS, PERFORMANCE POETRY. THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS PEOPLE POINT TO TODAY WHEN POETRY IS ACCUSED OF BECOMING IRRELEVANT. A LOT OF YOUNG PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED IN PERFORMANCES, POETRY SLAMS. EXPLAIN TO US WHAT THAT IS. WHAT IS A POETRY SLAM?

A POETRY SLAM IS A PERFORMANCE WHERE YOU SIGN UP BEFOREHAND AND EACH PRO ET CETERA GOES TWICE -- POET GOES TWICE. YOU GO IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. YOU PERFORM A POEM. YOU READ IT, NO PROPS, NO ACCOMPANIMENT. IT IS THREE MINUTES OR LESS AND THEN YOU GET SCORED BY FIVE JUDGES BETWEEN 1 AND 10. THEY JUST SAY, THERE YOU GO. THEY MADE THE JOKE AT EVERY POETRY SLAM WE ARE SCORING POETRY, IT IS A TERRIBLE THING TO DO. I LIKE IT, IT MAKES POETRY ACCESSIBLE BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO GET THE PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND IT RIGHT THERE. THEY SCORE YOU RIGHT AFTER THE POEM. SO YOU HAVE TO GO UP THERE AND SAY SOMETHING THAT THEY CAN AT LEAST UNDERSTAND TO SOME EXTENT RIGHT THERE. AND I REMEMBER SOMETHING TED KOOSER ABOUT THAT. I SAID, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT SLAM? HE LAUGHED. HE SAID, WELL, THERE IS A LOT OF DIFFERENT MOVEMENTS OUT THERE. HE SAID THERE IS THE COULD YOU BOUGH POETS, THE SLAM POETS AND THE LITERARY POETS. THE LITERARY POETS ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO THINK THAT EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD BE LIKE THEM.

WOULD YOU AGREE WITH THAT?

THAT'S A PRETTY GOOD STATEMENT.

HOW WOULD A TYPICAL POEM -- I ASSUME YOU HAVE BEEN TO POETRY SLAMS, ET CETERA. HOW WOULD YOU A POEM YOU HEAR THERE DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU WOULD SEE IN THE TYPICAL COLLECTION THAT YOU WOULD PICK UP IN A BOOK?

A SLAM POEM, AS I UNDERSTAND IT, WORKS TO THE EAR. THE LISTENERS ARE LISTENERS. HAD HE ARE NOT SEEING IT ON THE PAGE. THEY DON'T HAVE TOO MUCH TIME TO DIGEST IT AND ABSORB IT THE WAY READERS CAN GO BACK. I LIKE THE ENERGY OF SLAM POETRY. I LIKE THE WAY IT DOES COMMUNICATE IMMEDIATELY AND IT MAKES AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE IN THE AUDIENCE WHICH IS KEY FOR ANY KIND OF POETRY. I THINK POETRY REALLY DEPENDS ON THAT EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT. BUT IT IS A DIFFERENT ANIMAL FROM LITERARY POEMS. I DON'T LET MY STUDENTS TURN IN THEIR SLAM POEMS FOR MY CLASSES. I HAVE HAD A LOT OF SLAM POETS AND THEY BRING SOME GOOD QUALITIES TO THE CLASS. BUT THE POEMS WE WRITE REALLY NEED TO WORK ON THE PAGE AND THAT'S A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT. THERE ARE SOME TECHNICAL DIFFERENCES.

LEARNING DISCIPLINES LIKE THAT, LEARNING DIFFERENT SCHEMES AND SO FORTH, EVEN IF A PERSON IS COMPELLED AND CANNOT KEEP THE POETRY FROM COMING AT THEM, IS IT GOOD TO SPEND THE TIME, TO LEARN THESE DISCIPLINES, TO DO THESE EXERCISES? HE HAS SOME IN THE BOOK AS WELL TO STUDY THE ACTUAL PHYSICAL FORM OF POEMS AND TO TRY TO WORK WITHIN THOSE. NOT MAYBE AS YOUR FINAL ASPIRATION BUT JUST AS AN EXERCISE, DOES IT MAKE YOU A BETTER POET?

I THINK SO. WE DID OUR FORMAL POETRY IN MY COURSES WHERE WE WERE CONSTRAINED BY A RIP RHYME AND METER. TED KOOSER HAS SOME PERVERSE POEMS AND FREE FLOWING POEMS. THAT'S GOOD. A MUSICIAN, EVEN IF SHE WANTED TO WRITE NEW AGE MUSIC OR HIP-HOP OR SOMETHING, SHE MIGHT START BY LEARNING COUNTERPOINT AND LEARNING FUGES AND THE BASICS.

MAKES YOU BETTER. WOULD YOU AGREE WITH THAT?

I ABSOLUTELY AGREE. EVEN IN THE SLAM POETRY WORLD, ALL THE THINGS I LEARNED IN HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH CLASSES ABOUT METER AND ABOUT RHYME SCHEMES AND ABOUT POETIC FORMS, AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED ARE LIKE -- THEY ARE THE HAMMERS AND SAWS AND NAILS IN THE TOOL BOX. YOU NEED THEM TO WRITE BECAUSE THEY ARE EFFECTIVE AND MAKE POEMS EFFECTIVE AND YOU SHOULD TOTALLY LEARN THEM.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIS STORY, ONE WHO COULD NOT QUIT WRITING POEMS BUT ALSO KNEW HE HAD TO SPEND HIS WHOLE LIFE AS AN INSURANCE EXECUTIVE, YET GOT UP AT 4:30 EVERY MORNING TO KEEP HIS CRAFT GOING AND KEEP IT ALIVE. IS THAT SOMETHING INTG? IS THAT PULLS PEOPLE INTO POETRY TO HEAR A STORY LIKE THAT.

THAT WAS INSPIRING TO ME. I AM SURE IT WAS TO STUDENTS AS WELL. JUST TO HAVE A MODEL OUT THERE OF SOMEONE WHO REALLY PUTS IT FIRST IN HIS DAILY LIFE AND SUMMONS THAT CONCENTRATION, I THINK IT IS GREAT. HE IS NOT THE ONLY INSURANCE BUSINESS POET. STEVENS WAS. A LOT OF POETS HAVE HAD GOOD DAY JOBS. HE SAID AT THE BEGINNING, I THINK OF THE LUNCH DISCUSSION THAT WE HAD, MR. KOOSER SAID, I'M JUST GOOD AT THIS BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN DOING IT A LONG TIME. IF I HAD BEEN WORKING ON BOWLING FOR THIS LONG, I WOULD BE A REALLY GOOD BOWLER. HE HAS THAT KIND OF SELF-EFFACING.

THE BOOK IS "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS." HIS MOST RECENT COLLECTION. TOOK HIM HE SAID ABOUT TEN YEARS. THIS IS TEN YEARS AS WORTH OF POETRY DISTILLED DOWN INTO THIS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS BOOK, HOPE?

I REALLY LIKE IT. IT JUST HAS THAT DIRECTNESS AND PLAINNESS AND A LOT OF MEMORABLE IMAGES IN IT, GOOD BOOK.

WE GOT EVERYTHING -- YOU ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE POETRY BOOK?

I REMEMBER THINKING JUST ABOUT EVERY POEM I READ IN THIS THING, EVERY TIME I TURN THE PAGE, IT WAS SOMETHING THAT EITHER IMMEDIATELY AFTER I READ IT, I WOULD THINK THAT SORT OF ECHOS. THAT RESOUNDS OR IS FUNNY OR AMUSING OR BOTH. I THOUGHT IT WAS ALL REALLY HIGH QUALITY. HE DIDN'T THINK HE PUT ANYTHING IN THERE FOR FILLER. IT WAS ALL REALLY GOOD.

PROBABLY BE GOOD TO HEAR SOME MORE. I KNOW EACH ONE OF YOU, AT LEAST BEFORE WE STARTED, SAID YOU WOULD READ ONE OF THE POEMS. WHY DON'T WE GO AHEAD. HOPE WE WILL LET YOU GO FIRST. WHAT POEM HAVE YOU SELECTED?

I HAVE PICKED ONE CALLED "--WATER." I THINK HE LIKES OLDER PEOPLE AND HE LIKES THE WORLD OF THEIR MEMORY AND THE WORLD OF THEIR CHILD HOODS THAT'S GONE AND HE EVOKES THAT A LOT. AND HE GOES BACK TO MEMORY. HE TALKS ABOUT IT IN THIS BOOK. YOU WILL HEAR WHEN I READ THIS, YOU WILL HEAR A VERY CLEAR MEMORY OF THE SPEAKER'S GRANDMOTHER. THE POEM IS CALLED "DISHWATER."  SLAP OF THE SCREEN DOOR, FLAT KNOCK OF MY GRANDMOTHER'S BOX STOOP. THE HUSH AND SWEEP OF HER KNOB-KNEED, COTTON-APRONED STRIDE OUT TO THE EDGE AND THEN, TOED IN WITH A FURIOUS TWIST AND HEAVE, A BRIDGE THAT LEAPS FROM HER HOT RED HANDS AND HANGS THERE SHINING FOR 50 YEARS OVER THE MYSTIFIED CHICKENS, OVER THE SWAYING NETTLES, THE RAGWEED, THE CLAY SLOPE DOWN TO THE CREEK, OVER THE REDWING BLACKBIRDS IN THE TOPS OF THE WILLOWS, A GLORIOUS RAINBOW WITH AN EMPTY DISHPAN SWINGING AT ONE END.

HE MENTIONED IN HIS BOOK THAT ONE OF HIS FAVORITE EXERCISES IS TO WRITE POEM FOR A WEEK, FOR A MONTH WHERE YOU ARE FORBIDDEN TO TALK ABOUT KNIFE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT ANYTHING. IF YOU JUST READ IT, IT IS DEVOID OF ANY OVERT FEELINGS. BUT, YET, WHEN YOU PUT ALL THIS IMAGE TOGETHER, DO YOU GET AN IDEA THAT HE IS STILL SAYING HOW HE FEELS ABOUT THAT SUBJECT WHEN WRITES THE POEM?

I WOULD THINK HIS GRANDMOTHER IS A REALLY VIVID PERSON IN HIS CHILDHOOD. AND HOW MANY TIMES HE AS A BOY MUST HAVE WATCHED HER GO AND SLING HER DISHWATER OFF THE BACK PORCH.

VERY VISUAL AND WHAT A GREAT POEM. WHAT DID YOU SELECT?

I SELECTED A POEM CALLED "STUDENT." I RATHER HE READ WHEN CAME HERE AND HE DID A READING IN THE STAPLES AUDITORIUM. HE PREFACED IT BY SAYING NOTICED WALKING AROUND COLLEGE CAMPUS THAT IS A LOT OF TIMES STUDENTS WILL OVERLOAD THEIR BACKPACKS OF BOOKS AND BE LITERALLY HUNCHED AFTER THE WEIGHT AND HAVE TO SWING THEIR ARMS OUT IN FRONT TO COUNTERBALANCE. HE THOUGHT IT WAS AN AMUSING WALK OF A LOT OF STUDENTS. THE GREEN SHELF HIS BACKPACK MAKES HIM LEAN INTO WAVE AFTER WAVE OF RESPONSIBILITY, AND HE SWINGS HIS STIFF ARMS AND CUPPED HANDS, PADDLING AHEAD. HE HAS EXTENDED HIS NECK TO ITS FULL LENGTH, AND HIS CHIN, HARD AS A BEEK, BREAKS THE COLD SURF. HE'S GOT HIS BASEBALL CAP ON BACKWARD AS UP HE CRAWLS, OUT OF THE FROTH OF A HANGOVER AND ONTO THE SAND OF THE FUTURE, AND LUMBERS, HEAVY WITH HOPE, INTO THE LIBRARY.

WE HAVE ALL BEEN THAT GUY, HAVEN'T WE? OR PERSON. HEAVY WITH HOPE, I DON'T REMEMBER BEING HEAVY WITH HOPE SO MANY TIMES. DID THAT SURPRISE YOU AT THE END?

YEAH.

WHAT DO YOU THINK HE MEANS BY THAT?

I THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY JUST KIND OF A WONDERFULLY -- JUST KIND OF WITTY AND JUST REALLY REALISTIC, KIND OF PORTRAYAL OF A STUDENT. JUST DAZED. I SAT DOWN IN A POETRY CLASS ACTUALLY YESTERDAY NEXT TO A GUY WHO JUST DROPPED HIS BOOK AND SHOOK THE ARE FLOOR. HE SAID I HAVE BEEN AWAKE FOR 11 MINUTES. I WAS LOOK, ALL RIGHT. HE WAS STUMBLING INTO THE LIBRARY WHICH I THOUGHT WAS REALLY COOL. THAT SEEMED TO BE THE CONNECTION TO HOPE IN THERE, IS THAT HE IS MAKING HIS AFTER ALL THE STUDENT NONSENSE INTO THE LIBRARY, PLACE OF LEARNING.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR INSIGHTS. COMING AND TALKING ABOUT TED KOOSER WITH US TODAY. THE BOOK WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT, "THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL" AND HIS COLLECTION "DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS." THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US ON THE SAME PAGE.

I KNOW EVERY POET LAUREATE HAVE A PROJECT OR SOME SORT OF PROJECT THAT THEY SORT OF TAKE UNDER THEIR WING AND PUSH FORWARD. I KNOW YOU HAD A VERY IMPORTANT ONE WHICH IS CONTINUING TODAY.

IT IS CALLED "AMERICAN LIFE IN POETRY." IT IS A FREE WEEKLY NEWSPAPER COLUMN THAT NEWSPAPERS CAN DOWNLOAD OFF A WEB SITE. AMERICANLIFEINPOETRY.ORG. WE ARE IN 150 PAGES RIGHT NOW. IT IS A VERY SHORT COLUMN. IT WON'T TAKE OUT TOO MUCH NEWS HOLE. I TRY TO PICK POEMS THAT NEWSPAPER READERS CAN UNDERSTAND.

AETN.org > Programs > AETN Presents > On the Same Page > On the Same Page with Ted Kooser