I owe you a Ted Kooser story...

On Saturday, Ted Kooser read with Dan Gerber in Port Townsend, Washington's Fort Warden Park (for the non-locals, this is the place they filmed An Officer and a Gentleman).  We arrived late thinking that this would be like most every poetry reading-- poorly attended and running late.  Wrong on both counts.  The theatre was jammed packed.  I sat in the last row with the other late arrivers, but luckily, it's a smaller theatre so all the seats had pretty good views.

Sitting in two chairs with a small table between them, Ted would read a poem then Dan would respond by reading a poem with a similar theme.  My husband said that they looked like two men at Denny's--Ted in his tan suit and Dan leaning back in his chair as if ready to tell you a story.  They read for fifty minutes.  Afterwards, there was a short Q&A.  I felt a  bad for Dan during this part.  Most of the questions were for Ted.  Dan was sort of the consolation prize, like on the Wheel of Fortune, after the winner has spent all her money on the trip to Tahiti and the new car, she still has $125 left over which is just enough to buy the ceramic Dalmatian.  Dan was sort of the ceramic Dalmatian of the evening, after all the questions to Ted on becoming the Poet Laureate, a woman finally asked them both a question and Ted graciously let Dan answer first.
I was impressed with Mr. Kooser when he said that he know longer submits to literary journals because right now he can get anything published.  He said they publish his poems because his name is attached to them and not on whether they think they are good, well-written poems.  So he's pulled himself out of that arena.  I'm guessing some other poets would take advantage of such a situation and publish everywhere, so I could appreciate his actions here.  He also told a very funny story about getting the call from the Library of Congress to become the new Poet Laureate and then deciding to take a drive and return some DVDs to think about it.  He said as he backed out, he slammed his side-view mirror into the garage and it dangled all the way to town by a cord against his passenger door.  He said he never did return those DVDs that day. 
Afterwards it was time to have our books signed (Delights & Shadows, and a beautiful letterpress book of his valentines, which I love).  If you know me, you know that when I get around poets I admire I tend to turn into a Neanderthal muttering things like, "Me, Kelli.  Me likey your book."  Because I am a big fan of Ted Kooser I tried to pull it together and come up with a few normal things to say.  I learned he knew the directors of my MFA program, so I thought I'd mention that.  I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his book of valentines.  I also considered letting him know that he chose my poem as an honorable mention in NAR's James Hearst Poetry Prize.  But what did I do when it finally my turn to speak to him, to kindly hand him my books to sign?  I dropped all my books on Mr. Kooser's feet like the cave woman I am.  Yes, this was my meeting with Ted Kooser, the ex-Poet Laureate, I was the person hitting his feet with books.  As I tried to pick up the books in my nervousness, I became a chaotic juggler, everything was slipping out of my hands.  So to make things "better" (and I have that in quotes because we all know in a situation like this, rarely do things get better) I tried to speak.   And what did I rapidly mumble to Mr. Kooser?  Something awkward and stalker-like: "I know people you know" and "I like your book" (book--not plural, but as if he has only one book I like). Nice. 
Mr. Kooser sweetly accepted my books to sign and I spelled out my name for him like a child.  When I told a friend about how I acted she said kindly, "It sounds as if you were charming," well, if clumsy and confused have become a synonym for charming, then charming I was. Still afterwards, even with all the nuttiness of the moment, I was giddy for having finally met him.  I drove home thinking about the evening and feeling thankful and lucky for where I live.  It was dusk and poetry was in the letters of everyone's license plate.  The Canadian geese were spelling out Mary Oliver name and the wheat fields where the llama wander seemed to be a cover of a book.  When I returned home I opened my notebook to read my notes from the evening.  I had only written two things:  "I slit my wrists but I was empty" and "To write good poems, learn everything about the craft of poetry, then forget about it." 
From Local Wonders by Ted Kooser:
They Had Torn Off My Face at the Office

They had torn off my face at the office.
The night that I finally noticed
that it was not growing back, I decided
to slit my wrists. Nothing ran out;
I was empty. Both of my hands fell off
shortly thereafter. Now at my job
they allow me to type with the stumps.
It pleases them to have helped me,
and I gain in speed and confidence.
* * * * *


  1. think I'll get an email address called tedkooser@gmail.com. smile. enjoyed the poem and the story.

  2. And if you do, I shall write you awkward and confused emails. ;-)

    Thanks for the note.

  3. Kelli, a belated congrats on your graduation, and I loved your story of hearing and meeting Kooser (and Dan). The book dropping scene made me laugh out loud! Sounds like a night to remember.

  4. I always try to make a good impression with these famous poet types. ;-)

    Thanks for the congrats!


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