By Carl Hinman

Students in ENG 442 are sharing their reading responses to the Major Nebraska Writers we have encountered this Fall. Carl’s post was inspired by his reading of the poetry of Ted Kooser.

Over the past semester in our class, we have talked in great detail about the theme of home In this whole fall semester we have read all these great Nebraska writers from Sandoz to Cather, and they all have unique voices and stories to tell us. The main focus of the class has been the concept of what home is and what is a major writer. With this in mind I think Ted Kooser is a good fit for these criteria. Kooser writes like how some college students think around the holiday season, being homesick and thinking about the family they have back at home. In the case of Kooser he references his home with his parents and their passing. Now anyone could write poetry about these themes like Kooser, and we would not call them a major writer. What sets Kooser apart is his command of poetic form and metaphor.

The poem I think illustrates not only the theme of home, but also both his command of the poetic language and metaphors would be the poem “Father.”

FATHER

Today you would be ninety-seven 
if you had lived, and we would all be 
miserable, you and your children, 
driving from clinic to clinic,
an ancient fearful hypochondriac 
and his fretful son and daughter, 
asking directions, trying to read 
the complicated, fading map of cures. 

But with your dignity intact
you have been gone for twenty years,
and I am glad for all of us, although
I miss you every day—the heartbeat 
under your necktie, the hand cupped
on the back of my neck, Old Spice
in the air, your voice delighted with stories. 
On this day each year you loved to relate 
that the moment of your birth
your mother glanced out the window 
and saw lilacs in bloom. Well, today 
lilacs are blooming in side yards 
all over Iowa, still welcoming you.

What makes Kooser such an interesting read is just how vague his metaphors are. In this I mean that Kooser makes it so that the meaning is not obvious by just reading the title. The poem and title all have a connection. The other thing to note about Kooser is how he has a focus on the concept of death in his poetry and with a spring like beauty to it all. One of my favorites in the vein of “Father” and this beauty with death comes in play with the poem “After Years”. This poem really has a weird spacey tone to it. Still, it is about the death of who I can only presume was Kooser’s neighbor. Regardless of whoever this poem is about the fact is that this poem much like many of Kooser’s other poems has a theme of death and as I like to call it morose joy. Kooser likes to look at death sometimes with a bit of joy and that theme is something that almost any writer covers but the way he relates it to his home makes him a perfect fit as a local major writer.

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