Why does Ted Kooser drive me nuts?
This is why Ted Kooser drives me nuts. First, he’ll say something that I think sounds fine, like this:
Q: Do you have a definition as to what a poem is?
A: A poem is the record of a discovery, either the discovery of something in the world, or within one’s self, or perhaps the discovery of something through the juxtaposition of sounds and sense within our language. Our job as poets is to set down the record of those discoveries in such a way that our readers will make the discoveries theirs and will delight in them. My teacher, Karl Shapiro, once said that the proper response to any work of art is joy, and if we can give joy to our readers, that’s a fine thing.
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OK, so that sounds jolly good! Art aspires to the transfer of joy. It’s not what I’d say, but it’s a fine way to begin to talk about the possibilities of poetry. And it’s about discovery. That sounds like he’s advocating an art that would be open to possibility, to play, to experiment. But then he goes on to say this:
Q: There are many kinds of contemporary poetry being written: innovative, received forms, free verse, political, humorous, and so on. Is there an area of poetry you see as neglected or of which you would like to see more?
A: Not in a particular form or manner such as you describe, but I’d like to see poetry that pays more attention to how it may be received by a reader. I believe in being considerate of my readers, and not talking down to them or throwing things at them that they don’t have the ability to catch. A more generous poetry takes the reader into consideration.
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Bleh. Why’d he have to go and ruin it? You know? What a dumb thing to say, to suppose that the poet is this focus group, middle manager: “throwing things at them that they don’t have the ability to catch”? Seriously, Ted Kooser has these abilities to do things that he doesn’t think people would have the ability to catch? So he brings himself down to our level? Lobs us the easy ones? Please. It’s just this kind of stuff that’s full of just the kind of “talking down to” that he says he’s avoiding. No, thank you, art is not a game of catch with a two-year-old. I dare Ted Kooser to throw a fast pitch, just once. I’d like to see that.
And that’s not the only subject he’s ready to be dumb on, here he is, talking about those Internets things:
Q: What are your views concerning online versus print magazines? Do you think poetry aesthetics will change when they are no longer just a matter of printed words on the page but also words on the screen?
A: The advantage of traditional literary magazines is that the number of pages is finite, and decisions as to which poem to publish have to be made with that limit in mind. So if a traditional little magazine has room for, say, twenty poems, just twenty get selected and presented. It’s my feeling that since the internet has infinite capacity, anything goes.
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Spoken like someone who does very little reading of web-based journals. Why? Well, if he did, he’d notice that Web-based journals, by and large, publish greatly fewer poems that print journals do. So there goes his “anything goes” argument. Far be it from me to let him end on so simplistic a note. Here he is, working to redeem himself:
Q: You’ve said that you would like to see public school teachers given resources so they can more effectively inspire students to enjoy poetry. What is one way in which to engage a student’s interest in poetry?
A: I think teachers need to emphasize the pleasures of poetry and quit talking about the MEANING. If students can find pleasure in reading poems, they’ll go on reading them. But to treat a poem like a problem that needs to be solved is no fun, and discouraging.
Part of the pleasure of poetry is auditory, and I recommend that teachers be sure to read poems aloud. Some students learn to read in such a way that a word symbolizes an idea, and there’s no auditory step. Thus those students don’t understand that poems have a lot of music. It helps immensely to read them aloud.
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Good words to end with. Too bad he doesn’t see the implications of what he’s saying. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
Here’s the link, if you want it: