Ted Kooser reading at Dale Chihuly Gardens and Glass, Seattle Arts and Lectures, October 2, 2014
Ted Kooser’s reading was a good meal, the real deal, and a reminder of what a great poet this guy from Nebraska is. The things you immediately notice are his attention to detail, his clear perception of the joys and sorrows of being alive, and his ability to communicate in lyrics that go down easy but pack a kick. A short stanza from the poem “Estate Sale” from Kooser’s book Splitting an Order gives you the gist of his diction:
“A soggy shoe box, and in its grayness
a yellow tin of corn pads rising
sun-like over the reflecting pools
of a neatly folded pair of glasses.”
The visual quality of his language may owe a debt to the fact that Kooser is also a painter and admires painting. In the Q&A following the reading, when asked who his favorite painters were, he said “pre-Abstract Expressionist,” mentioning Edward Hopper among others. Kooser’s realistic tableaus can sometimes have a “Hopper-esqe” feel. He’s also clearly one of the descendants of William Carlos Williams, not so much in his prosody as in the things he thinks are important, the intimate details of people’s lives and the infinite detail of the natural world.
Kooser read from his new book with modesty and a sense of humor, letting his words provide the drama. His newer work is a welcome addition following the 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner, Delights and Shadows, one of the best books in his 45-year publishing career (this and his new book published by Copper Canyon Press).
This was the first reading presented by Seattle Arts and Lecture at Dale Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, which is stupendously beautiful and fascinating museum–not included in the price of admission, though you could walk out through the garden as you left. I’d never seen the garden at night. It’s like walking into a science fiction novel. The reading was in the atrium area with its glass ceiling through which you can see illuminated glass sculpture as well as the Space Needle. However I must mention that it was not an optimal venue for a poetry reading. First you are crammed thigh to thigh in uncomfortable folding chairs. Then there was the sound system, which exhibited the same general range in quality as a high school auditorium PA system in a not very intimate setting. Too bad since sound is just as important for poetry as it is for any other kind of music.