Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | December 1, 2014

Finding Poems in the Everyday

Coffee and NewspaperThe Sunday after Thanksgiving was one of utter self-indulgence. Papers graded, lesson planning done for the week, home responsibilities fulfilled, I spent the morning with coffee and the New York Times, the afternoon at the cinema with a long-time idol, and the evening with poetry – first reading, then writing.

kooser bookTed Kooser, the “farm poet,” has released his first book of poems in several years, and Sunday was the perfect day to dig into it. Kooser was one of our more unlikely Poets Laureate of the United States when he was selected for the post in 2004. A retired life-insurance salesman, he has accumulated several books full of short, quiet poems about people in the small towns of the Midwest. Many of his poems consist of one long sentence and focus on one brief image or moment, seeming wispy as a haiku. They are full of compassion and a profound appreciation of the spirit – of all living things.

Here is the title poem Kooser’s new book, Splitting an Order:

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,

maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,

no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady

sandwich-cut-in-halfby placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table

and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,

and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,

observing his progress through glasses that moments before

he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half

onto the extra plate that he asked the server to bring,

and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife

while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,

her knife, and her fork in their proper places,

then smooths the starched white napkin over her knees

and meet his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

I let Mr. Kooser inspire me as I crafted this poem about my experience at the local movie theater.

Seeing Birdman at Thanksgiving

I was not annoyed by the old couple

who arrived late and chose seats

directly in front of me, even as they

popcornspent several minutes getting situated –

he setting down the bag of popcorn,

then taking her cane and escorting her

to her seat, removing her coat and then

his own, placing the coats in a seat

adjoining theirs, and finally taking up

the popcorn again and sitting down

as the final preview began. No one

shushed them as she asked him, loudly,

if this was the film they’d come to see,

nor his reply – no, it was not, but it

keatonwould be coming on soon. The film

unfolded then – and it was about

how far we will go to make meaning

in our lives, what it takes to make

our mark, the value of fame, of art,

of hard work, of love. What love is.

In the theater, fifty pairs of eyes

old couplewatched from mainly gray heads,

the old couple before me sharing

their popcorn and a Coke. When

the credits began and he rose to

gather their coats, and when she said,

loudly, she wasn’t sure whether she

should laugh or cry, and he did not

respond but helped her to stand

and then to struggle into her coat –

it was then that I felt I knew them

tea kettleintimately, knew of their years together,

could see them as he drove their car

into the small garage, then stepped

into the white-tiled kitchen where she

would heat up the kettle for tea.

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