Saturday, February 13, 2016
Breaking News
Home » New West Network Topics » Books & Writers » “Valentines” from Ted Kooser with Love
valentinekooser_thumb

“Valentines” from Ted Kooser with Love

Valentines: Poems
By Ted Kooser
University of Nebraska Press
47 pages, $14.95

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am jealous. Since 1986, the poet Ted Kooser has been sending women original poems printed on postcards that arrived faithfully every February 14th, his mailing list eventually growing to 2,600 souls, and I was not among them. Sigh. My Valentine shoebox, stenciled with my name, decorated with pink hearts, rested empty for want of these poems. In the introduction to Valentines, Kooser writes that on the first year of this project, he sent a poem to 50 women, and notes that “my wife, Kathleen, didn’t seem to mind, and she’s tolerated this foolishness of mine every year since, as the list grew and grew. She’s not only a good sport; she also knows that though I’m a flirt, I’m pretty much a harmless geezer…” Kooser was forced to conclude his Valentine poem project in 2007, when the costs of postage and printing became prohibitive.

Let’s see, that’s 26 cents a postcard, and 2,600 recipients, which adds up to $676, not including the printing expenses. That’s a lot of cheddar for a poet. Even for a former U.S. poet laureate. Okay Ted, I guess I forgive you for both offenses: for discontinuing your Valentine mailings, and for leaving me off your list, but only because you have published this book. Valentines presents every Valentine poem Kooser sent since 1986, along with Robert Hanna’s charming illustrations of the Nebraska countryside and home where Kooser lives.

I’ve learned many useful things from this collection, such as the surprising fact that Kooser favors safety scissors for cutting out red paper hearts. I remember being frustrated with safety scissors, which were no match for a sturdy piece of construction paper, but in his poem “A Perfect Heart,” Kooser schools me:

I like
Those safety scissors with the sticky blades
And the rubber grips that pinch a little skin
as you snip along. They make you careful,
Just as you should be, cutting out a heart
For someone you love.

Love requires patience, and safety scissors are a part of that. How could I forget? I’ve also learned, from the poem “Inventory,” that an employee taking stock of a drug store’s candy aisle can be shockingly forward with the bags of gummy bears.

My favorite poem in the book is “Oh, Mariachi Me,” which perfectly captures the romantic exuberance of the mariachi. It begins:

All my life I have wanted nothing so much
as the love of women. For them I have fashioned
the myth of myself, the singing troubadour
with the flashing eyes. Always for them
my black sombrero with its swinging tassels,
This vest embroidered with hearts, these trousers
with silver studs down the seams.

Don’t all who love wish they could bare their hearts in this way to their beloved, belting it out in a ringing voice, or at the very least blaring it through the clear, bright tones of a trumpet?
Kooser is just as good at conveying the settled, companionate love of long-married couples as he is at portraying the swaggering affection of a young man. In “Splitting An Order,” Kooser carefully describes “an old man cutting a sandwich in half” to share with his wife, who “meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.”

“The Celery Heart” finds unexpected pathos in the produce aisle of the Hinky Dinky. The speaker bemoans the fate of a stalk of celery, resting in the refrigerated section: “Its only consolations are, at regular intervals, the hiss of mist, and at times the warm and reassuring squeeze of a passing hand.” I’ll think twice before the next time I reach toward the celery for a cheap feel. Come to think of it, my comportment with melons and tomatoes at the supermarket has long been less than chivalric.

Some of these poems are unabashedly sweet, such as “The Bluet,” which celebrates the little blue flower (“each with four petals, each with a star/ at its heart.”), and others tackle more rough-hewn topics, such as “Chocolate Checkers,” in which two homeless men enjoy a game of checkers played with chocolate pieces in a public park, oblivious to the disapproving glances around them.

People who weren’t fortunate enough to make it onto Kooser’s Valentine’s list—which included such recipients as the novelist Louise Erdrich and the actress Debra Winger—do not have to sit home alone with an empty Valentine shoebox any longer. Ted Kooser’s Valentines will fill any shoebox to the brim with romance and wry insight.

About Jenny Shank

Check Also

Trahant: Summer Reading Includes Critical Indian Histories As Well As Smart Indian Voices

Echo-Hawk’s book ought to retire the entire debate about judicial activism. It has become a conservative article of faith that judges should narrowly follow the law when deciding cases. But Echo-Hawk methodically picks apart that fiction. He shows that even sainted justices, such as John Marshall, invented a legal theory from dust about the doctrine of discovery in Johnson v. M’Intosh. “Marshall claimed that the nation had no choice in how it dealt with the tribes and that the normal rules of international law did not apply,” Echo-Hawk wrote ... “Thus, the normal rules governing the relations between the conqueror and conquered were simply ‘incapable of application’ in the United States. It was the Indians own fault.” Marshall had a financial stake in the case that would not be permitted under today’s standards. And, Echo-Hawk points out, this was the same justice who at the end of his career became famous for Worcester v. Georgia, where he supported the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation against the state.