I sampled Ted Kooser's poetry and essays in a high school literature class eons ago. The experience was like my first scotch tasting last month – confounding. Do people really enjoy this stuff? Today, I get it. Kooser's poetry – like fine scotch – gets better with age.
I had the pleasure of spending a late-October day with the nationally known poet in the place he loves best – the Bohemian Alps of southeast Nebraska. Today, as I flip through my notes, I see that he gave me far more than a memorable day (see page 24). Between the quotes and anecdotes, I discover the beauty of simply being.
As a Washington Post reviewer aptly observed, "There is a sense of quiet amazement at the core of all of Kooser's work."
Life, in Ted's writings, is both a celebration and a lament. His favorite poem is always the one he has just finished. "But that only lasts for a couple of hours," he told me. The mark of literary success, he said, is to write "one thing that will last." For me, it's the imagry in his first book of prose, "Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps."
When I asked what he'd like to be remembered for, our 13th U.S. Poet Laureate said simply, "My acts of kindness."
Indeed, this is a soft-spoken, gentle, considerate man who handwrites two or three notes a day to people who have corresponded with him in a special way. "A thank-you note in an email doesn't count," he said. "You have to use paper and a fountain pen."
Regan Tokos, a junior at Millard North High School, shadowed me and World-Herald photographer Matt Miller on assignment to the heart of Kooser's universe – the villages of Garland and Dwight – about 20 miles northwest of Lincoln. Afterward, Regan told her mom that she had found the answer to what she wants to be when she grows up: A photojournalist. One of her photos appears with this colulm.
It was one perfect day, all the way around.