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By Michal Ann McArthur, Bend
Author of Choking on a Camel

Her blog

Book Review: “Delights & Shadows,” a collection of poetry by Ted Kooser

I had never heard of Ted Kooser, but he intrigued me one night as I listened to him read his poetry on National Public Radio. His poems were gritty, homespun, down-to-earth. I liked that. I only found out later that he was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2004-2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for “Delights and Shadows.” Not bad for a man who spent much of his adult life working as a life insurance executive.

I like a poet who doesn’t mince around among unicorns and daffodils. I want to read lines that are arresting, thought-provoking, even mind-blowing, that skewer me with sharp insight or leave me breathless with wonder. When I read a poem, I want feel as though a film over my eyes has been removed and for the first time, I can SEE. Kooser’s poems do that for me.

He takes the common, ordinary stuff of life and illumines it, often very quietly. His words can be as powerful as a laser beam, light intensely focused that burns right into the heart of a matter and reveals what is there. In “At the Cancer Clinic,” he describes two women helping a cancer patient walk to the examining room, an event that happens countless times every day. Yet Kooser reveals the grace in this moment and I am struck with awe.

When I read poetry, I want to read beautiful language, not sentences strung with gaudy froufrou, but language exquisitely crafted, pleasing to the tongue and the ear. Kooser’s lines are like that for me. “Delights & Shadows” is the kind of book I pick up anytime I have just a few minutes. I read a poem or two, and my soul is refreshed.