Monday, December 05, 2005


Awake At Dawn on Someone's Couch is a personal poetry blog, and I know next to nothing about the author, save that from some pronouns I would guess that she is a woman, and I am impressed both by her own poetry and her remarks on poetry.

In this post Ted Kooser she ponders why Kooser's poetry " is not something that I can usually endure for an entire book".

I can commiserate. "Awake" attributes it to Kooser's homespun sensibility and rural topics, but elsewhere makes a (I think) telling comment "You use an awful lot of similes, though. They’re good, mostly. Just a lot of them."

Indeed! Here is a Kooser poem included in an appreciation by Dana Gioia :

The Blind Always Come as Such a Surprise

The blind always come as such a surprise,
suddenly filling an elevator
with a great white porcupine of canes,
or coming down upon us in a noisy crowd
like the eye of a hurricane.
The dashboards of cars stopped at crosswalks
and the shoes of commuters on trains
are covered with sentences
struck down in mid-flight by the canes of the blind.
Each of them changes our lives,
tapping across the bright circles of our ambitions
like cracks traversing the favorite china.

Here is the typical Kooser patter - the footfalls of small clever similes leading up to the final simile containing the punchline/conclusion.

And the similes - every one - are clever, or at least decent. I get one decent image in four poems…Kooser gets four or five in one piece! I feel like Salieri getting the measure of his mediocrity by comparison to Mozart - "Twenty bars…five melodies!"

But after one of these poems, then many more, it becomes irritating…and doubts surface. The similes of surprise tell us nothing more than that cripples take us up short, and they don't really support what I take to be the "there but for the grace of God…" conclusion, which - although wrapped in its own simile of the cracked plate - is flipped at us like the obvious truism it is.

And if that commonplace is the whole significance of the piece, you have to wonder at all the artillery mustered to support it.

Maybe you could just enjoy the exercise, of course. A reasonable theory of poetry is that all of its devices (sonics and word-pictures) are designed to reach some part of the imagination, and "exercise" it.

But there are many types of exercise - the exercise of games, the exercise of good hard tasks, the mastery of skills in say a Yoga practice, the encounters with nature and human limitation in the outdoors, and the exercise involved in life-changing experiences - escape from prison or a battlefield, a desert waste or a sinking ship.

And also there is the banal exercise of hitting the local Fitness Center for regular rounds on the treadmill, to stay young and beautiful.

Poems can and should cover the entire range, but Kooser's poetry may include too many of this last.

Kooser can do better. "Awake" draws attention to:


The young of the mole
are born in the skull of a mayor.
They learn footfall
and rain. In the Season
of Falling Pinecones, they gather
in churches of ribs,
whining and puking.
When one of the old moles dies,
the young push him out of his tunnel
and set him afloat on the light.
This is the way we find them
out in the garden,
their little oars
pulled up and drying.

"Awake" rightly notes the similarity to anthropologist's reports - "these" people, so strange, yet so like ourselves. I would go further: the moles are inside our heads, and Kooser's point is the same as Buddha's…the One personality is a fiction, and the rejected sides of ourselves are legion.

The example is as homespun and Midwestern as anything else Kooser has employed and the technique is pure imagery.

For Kooser is an Imagist. Compare him to an acknowledged Imagist, the great poet of Ecuador, Jorge Andrade:

Song Of The Apple

Miniature evening sky:
Yellow, green, flesh color
With stars of sugar
Cloudlets of satin.

Apple with the hard breast
Gradual snow to the touch,
Sweet rivers to the taste,
Clear sky to the nose.

Emblem of knowledge.
Bearer of the supreme message:
Law of gravitation
Or that of sexual love.

In our hands the apple
Is a memory of paradise.
A tiny heaven: an angel of fragrance
Flies in its orbit.

This is marvelous…and no more than the evocation of the apple. Likewise, the same issue of Jacket contains similar evocations of a rural Sunday morning and the Eiffel Tower.

But also this…

Indian Rebellion

Refracted into brilliance,
last candles hiss
in the mountain’s rainy mist.

Village Indians carry sunrise
on the blades of their sickles
into the lowlands.

In steam from mountain ponchos,
the color of apples,
flutter birds and voices.

Wind from the highlands
descends in concave brims of hats
toward the lowlands, fat with sheaves.

In carts of air
mule driver roads carry clusters of songs
through the night.

The Indian rebellion carries morning
in the protest of their shovels.

A great poem! The wonderful similes strung around the details of mountain Indians descending to the lowlands for work could suggest an exploitation, or something else - even a liberation. A revolt - or a surrender. Conclusions are not supplied, but rather made available. The awakened imagination is bid to wonder.

Poetry can do nothing more… needs to do nothing more. It is enough.



Blogger krosen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:31 PM  
Blogger krosen said...

Kooser's poem "Moles" was wonderful, for which thank you. I'm not a blogger. I feel more like an 21st C. Alex in Wonderland wandering an automobile dump and suddenly the cars start talking to me. I also appreciated your remarks on Kooser, how doubts begin to service, like the cracks in Kooser's china.

11:31 PM  

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