Ted Kooser

(Ames, Iowa)

Selecting A Reader


First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Terri Kirby Erickson (11/7/2007 12:11:00 PM)

    The lovely thing about this poem is how it flows from image to image...the beautiful woman...walking carefully...the loneliest moment of the afternoon...her hair still damp at the neck. You can see it clearly, feel it in a visceral way. Ted Kooser is a master at the art of story telling. And the thing is, if you are a writer...to inspire a woman to have her raincoat cleaned seems miracle enough. Every decision counts-every act, however small, changes the world. (Report) Reply

  • Old Poet (1/18/2007 9:38:00 PM)

    Short, simple and definitely Ted Kooser.
    Some comments show that they did NOT get this poem in spite of its simplicity.
    He's poking fun of his own work AND vanity people!
    Its a great poem! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 685 Points Anne Marie (8/1/2006 1:18:00 PM)

    I can imagine Kooser lurking in the aisles of the bookstore, watching to see who is picking up his books. Of course he wants it to be a hot, sexy, yet intellectual girl who his poetry attracts. He is a MAN after all! And when she puts the book down, he makes into someone who is petty and obviously doesn't appreciat the art anyway. She's not quite as cute as she looked at first. It's about rejection. The dude got shot down!

    Annie (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 685 Points Reva Hill (11/25/2005 3:56:00 PM)

    Oh—arrogance, I see. Deathless? How earnest, how arrogant such commentary strikes me.

    I do like the poem and enjoy Mr. Kooser’s longing for a beautiful reader and his acceptance of the shabby raincoat. He is a man who takes his art so lightly as to let her leave without buying a book. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 685 Points Jessica Brick (7/13/2005 10:42:00 AM)

    Oh, to have Billy Collins back as the Poet Laureate... this poem, especially, reminds me of a better one by Collins- Marginalia, one of the best lines of which is, 'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.' Kooser definitely borders into the arrogant in not a few of his poems, something about his tone. He seem to feel that as a poet, the world waits on him. I agree with a comment made earlier by Lamont- if anything Kooser, instead of inspiring me, heartens me in believing that I too perhaps am capable of winning a prize for my poetry one day. (Although I myself have shared the wish that a reader of my poetry would be beautiful...) (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 685 Points Leanna Stead (4/5/2005 11:58:00 AM)

    This is lovely... I am definitely impressed. : -)

    I found out about Mr. Kooser only today, when I read of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book entitled 'Delights and Shadows.' In searching this site I then found 'Selecting a Reader, ' which has captured my fancy as do few poems I read.

    I would have to cite Kooser's use of imagery - visual, emotional, and sensual - as my favorite feature of this poem. It does make the poem highly accessible and easy to interpret, though I must add that I find its emotional impact somewhat more difficult to describe. This is definitely a good thing - the emotions are complex, rather than vague.

    The tone shifts from wistful at the beginning ('I would have her be beautiful, ' 1) to an air of self-deprecating humor at the end ('...And she will, ' 13) . This encourages both reminiscence and laughter - which, at least for me, is uniquely charming - and makes the experience of reading the work that much more enjoyable.

    I'm definitely reading more Ted Kooser. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 30 Points Percy Dovetonsils (1/29/2005 1:43:00 PM)

    I understand why this is one of his most popular-it's mildly witty, easily accessible, surrenders up its meaning quickly. Not very challenging. #4 (about the Vietnamese Cafe) is better, and so is #1 (birthday poem about the poet as dairy cow) . It's far from deathless poetry, but makes a good introduction to his book. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 30 Points virginia lee (11/23/2004 5:26:00 PM)

    Amen! I love those stores where you can act like you're at a library, and read a whole book while there! Cheap-o, that's me!
    I am an acquaintance of your son in Rantoul. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 30 Points Andrew Croke (10/22/2004 4:14:00 PM)

    FYI: This poem appeared essentially as an introduction, at the beginning of Kooser's book _Sure Signs_.

    It's one of my favorites of all time. (Report) Reply

Read all 12 comments »

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