Talking with Ted Kooser

Do you ever feel like a dog in your indecision?  You know those times when you are trying to convince your dog to do something new and they start to whimper and walk circles.  That’s how I felt yesterday.

I was driving and listening to one of my favorite talk shows on NPR “On Point”.  There are bigger and more popular shows on the radio, but there are few hosts I would rather sit down and chat with than Tom.  I sent Tom a copy of “Where Am I Wearing?” with a note expressing how much I enjoy the show.  I didn’t hear back, but I’ve kept listening.  Unfortunately I rarely catch the show live.  Instead I listen to the podcast, which is convenient but I don’t have an opportunity to call into the live show.

Yesterday I did catch it live.  Tom was interviewing former poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, about his latest book.  I met Ted at a writing conference in Columbus, Ohio.

“I should call,” I tried to convince myself.  My hands grew sweaty.

“Nah,” I thought, “you’ll never get on.”

“Just try.”

I dialed and told the producer that I had met Ted and he inspired me to write this story about chasing lighting bugs that ran in the Christian Science Monitor.  The next thing I knew, I was on the air saying, “Hi Tom, Hi Ted.”

My tail is still wagging.

Here’s the show.  I come in at 37:58

Note: The Christian Science Monitor is very much alive online

(From the archives: Here’s the post I wrote in August of 2006 about meeting Ted)

I must admit, since high school I’ve been a little turned off by poetry. It has always seemed to be either a lot of flowery fluff or extremely high brow. Like if I read it I had two choices: skip through the garden naked and free, or, slobber all over my uncomprehending, oafish self. So, for these reasons I just don’t. Until now…

I’m happy to say that I checked out my first book of poetry from the library since…well, I’ve never checked out a book of poetry. This is truly a testament to the wonderful words of Ted Kooser THE Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. The position is appointed by the library of congress and was once held by a fella named Robert Frost. Poets Laureate are the superheroes of poetdom. Here’s what Wikipedia knows about ‘em.

He spoke at the writers’ conference I attended this past weekend in Columbus and he won me over fast with poems like The Urine Specimen. Here, have a sample:

…You know that just outside a nurse
is waiting to cool it into a gel
and slice it onto a microscope slide
for the doctor, who in it will read your future,
wringing his hands. You lift the chalice and toast
the long life of your friend there in the mirror,
who wanly smile, but does not drink to you.

After the talk I found myself sitting in an easy chair next to Ted. I read the paper and he was flipping through a book. I didn’t want to bother him, but took the opportunity to strike up a conversation after another pesky conference-goer hit him up for an autograph and then left. Ted and I talked for a good half-hour. We talked about football and poetry and everything in between. Ted bemoaned the proficiency testing in schools and how they’ve killed poetry (poetry isn’t on the tests, but fractions are). And how he just heard that similar tests may soon carry over into college. He also offered the following wisdom:

“There is no better way to spend 6 minutes than talking with your grandmother.”

The cool thing is that Ted is just like me and you. I bet he’s never written a poem in his life while sitting at a coffee house, but I bet he’s written books of them sitting on the steps of the barn. Here’s his bio from his website (note: he sold life insurance for 30 some years):

Ted Kooser is a poet and essayist, a professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and most recently, The United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. 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, 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.

See I told ya! Just like me and you. One heck of a guy.I’m reading Ted’s poetry, you should too.
Jenn says:

Nicely done. Kels, do you think that Ted Kooser’s voice sounds a little like Martin Sheen? Maybe someone else, but there’s something that’s very familiar about it.

Let your voice be heard!