|Vast Network Of Hearts Laced From One Man's Words For Women|
|Living - Relationships|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Thursday, 14 February 2008 09:00|
Lincoln, NE, USA. The separations imposed by time and distance fold back into themselves when confronted by the power of the human heart and just plain fun.
Ted Kooser wrote his Valentine's Day poem and sent it on a postcard from Valentine, Nebraska to an expanding circle of women friends for 21 years. The list grew from 50 to more than 2,700 women from all over the country who had attended his many poetry readings.
“If it was Ted’s sacred mission to satisfy the hearts of women, he has succeeded. One exquisite valentine every year the answer, at last, to what women want,” said Louise Erdrich. But, in time, burdened by the costs of printing and stamps, Kooser put a note on the 2007 card saying that it would be the last. Eventually, the the University of Nebraska Press has collected all 22 years of the Valentine's Day poems by Ted Kooser, complementing them with illustrations by Robert Hanna. The book starts with the very first poem he sent to the initial group of 50 women. Many of them were the wives of his friends. The 22-year cycle began with Pocket Poem.
If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I’d opened it a thousand times
to see if what I’d written here was right,
it’s all because I looked too long for you
to put it in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me
For You, Friend
this Valentine’s Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock,
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;
so that the weak, mid-February sun
(whose chill I will feel from the face
of the clock) cannot in any way
lessen the lights in your hair, and the wind
(whose subtle insistence I will feel
in the minute hand) cannot tighten
the corners of your smile. People
drearily walking the winter streets
will long remember this day:
how they glanced up to see you
there in a storefront window, glorious,
strolling along on the outside of time.Kooser's valentine poems encompass all the facets of the holiday: traditional hearts and candy, the quiet beauty of friendship, the brilliance and purity of love, and bitter-sweet longing.
Some of the poems use the word valentine, others do not, but there is never any doubt as to the purpose of Kooser's creations. As the poet says, "all my life, I have wanted nothing so much as the love of women".
Ted's wife, Kathleen, doesn't seem to mind; in fact, Kooser says she has tolerated what he calls his "foolishness" every year as the list grew and grew.
"I'm pretty enthusiastic about this book," Kooser said. "It has these marvelous pen and ink illustrations by Bob, who's a very dear friend of mine, and I like that he put my dog, Alice, in almost every drawing." Hanna is a retired architect who spends his time painting, illustrating, and teaching art workshops throughout the Great Plains.
The book includes a new poem for his wife, Kathleen, that appears in print for the first time.
There has been a prior interest in publishing Kooser's now-legendary valentines and there have been some limited editions. Art professor Bonnie O'Connell (University of Nebraska at Omaha) issued a 10-year collection. Then there was a 20-year edition in 2006 by Sam and Sally Green from Waldron, Washington. However, they "… are no longer available," Kooser said, "so I like the idea of having a trade edition that will have some reach to it. I think it will do well."
"For many years I have been a recipient of Ted Kooser's incredible valentines," said poet and novelist Ellen Gilchrist. "Valentine's Day became my favorite holiday because there was never any sadness, only the knowledge that usually, on the actual Valentine's Day and how he achieved this, I'll never know these beautiful small sonnets would arrive and I'd carry them around and show them to everyone I knew. I can only hope that the readers of this book will have some part of the great pleasure it gave me to read these poems."
Kooser is admittedly a hopeless romantic and his valentines reflect his youthful goal of gaining female attention, and his admiration for his many female friends.
"I'm in my 60s, but I, too, was once young and felt flashy as a red-winged blackbird," Kooser says, calling to mind his poem from another book, the Poetry Home Repair Manual.
Kooser said in his "young and flashy" years he saw the benefit of a career in poetry as provoking the "adoration of women." He says "That was what I was most interested in. In those years," he said, "I desperately needed some sort of a gimmick, for I was thin and pimply, my palms sweated, and my breath was sour from smoking the Chesterfields that despite the claims of magazine advertising had failed to make me irresistible."
"I got the idea that being a poet might make me attractive. It didn't occur to me for a long time that in order to earn the title of poet, I ought to have written at least one poem. Being a poet was looking the part. Today I read poems, I write poems, and at times, yes, sometimes for hours on end, I forget about women."
The newly published poem in the collection, the last valentine from the 22nd year, was written to his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, titled Hog-Nosed Snake. Ted Kooser says it is only fitting that he should should turn attention back to Kathleen, where it all began.
But the women do not forget about Ted Kooser. For instance, Debra Winger said: “I am a bit stunned. I just found out that these valentines, addressed to me, all these years, are in fact part of a vast network of hearts, laced together by one man’s words, a starburst compass pointing in all directions, an indescribable bon-bon-mot served every February 14th, now a complete feast, between these covers. What a gift.”
"She’s not only a good sport; she also knows that though I’m a flirt, I’m pretty much a harmless geezer." Kooser says the final poem is a surprise from an unreconciled romantic, the poem of a man who he says "has careened beyond the romantic into an altogether different age".
Editor's NoteThis article is an updated version of an article about Ted Kooser and his vast network of hearts that first appeared on Valentine's Day in 2008. Our own hearts melt; the story has become because our readers ask for it a featured event here at TS-Si.
FundingPublication of "Valentines" was supported through grants provided by the offices of the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
AuthorTed Kooser (b. 25 April 1939) is the presidential professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He is a former U.S. poet laureate and 2005 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his work, Delights and Shadows. In addition to his many volumes of poetry, he is the author of The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, and coauthor with Steve Cox of Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing, both available in Bison Books editions from the University of Nebraska Press.
Mr. Kooser also maintains an official website for his many fans and correspondents. [ link ]
Robert Hanna is a retired architect who spends his time painting, illustrating, and teaching art workshops throughout the Great Plains region.
CitationValentines. Ted Kooser. Introduction by the poet and illustrations by Robert Hanna. University of Nebraska Press: 2008. ISBN-10: 0803217706; ISBN-13: 978-0803217706.
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|Last Updated on Thursday, 14 February 2013 06:48|