One of the things I miss about the Triangle is Quail Ridge Books, which has a larger and more various poetry section than any chain I've ever visited, but last Sunday they didn't yet have Camille Paglia's new anthology. Instead I bought John Hollander's Picture Window and Ted Kooser's Flying at Night, the first 88 pages of which I read while driving back to Maryland on Interstates 85 and 95: they're short poems, for the most part readable at a glance, so it was only mildly crazy. Here's the first poem:
Selecting a Reader
First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on the shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.
Not the kind of poem that usually interests me: the line breaks, particularly, seem almost literally artless. But the self(and poetry?)-deprecating sensibility of the poem won me over, perhaps because I'd read about the poem somewhere, recognized it, oh yeah, this is the one I heard about made me interested in him … In any case I kept reading.
Minnesota Nebraska poet, and damned if he didn't remind me of his upper Midwest neighbor Robert Bly:
Behind each garage a ladder
sleeps in the leaves, its hands
folded across its belly.
There are hundreds of them
in each town, and more
sleeping by haystacks and barns
out in the country—tough old
day laborers, seasoned and wheezy,
drunk on the weather,
sleeping outside with the crickets.
But there's none of Bly's portentousness or pretentiousness, and he's not afraid to be funny:
A Hot Night in Wheat Country
One doctor in a Piper Cub
can wake up everyone in North Dakota.
At the level of an open upstairs window,
a great white plain stretches away—
the naked Methodists
lying on top of their bedding.
The moon covers her eyes with a cloud.
I'm not at all sure that I'll buy more of Kooser's work, but I'm glad to have this. Hollander later.
Update 2005 03 30: Henry Gould was kind enough to remind me that Ted Kooser is from Nebraska, not Minnesota.