Practical Art

Last night, as part of Jen’s birthday celebration, we went to hear Ted Kooser, the current Poet Laureate, speak at Chatham College. Jen has read several of Kooser’s books of prose for her coursework, and she has spoken well of him, so I gladly went along. I was intrigued because Kooser has fashioned himself as a bit of localist, staying close to his Midwestern roots, and focusing his writing around his home.

Kooser didn’t read much, instead providing a humorous biographical sketch and then taking questions from the audience. I was struck by two things — his humility and his emphasis on accessible art, especially poetry. Kooser may strike some as an unlikely Poet Laureate. He spend 35 or so years as a desk jockey at an insurance company, writing his poetry in the mornings before he left for the office. Kooser was also quite critical of the vicious circle that literary criticism has created — in order for critics to properly write, they must examine art that must interpreted. In turn, writers create denser and denser art to feed the critics (and get published). He specifically mentioned Pound and Eliot — poets who required a profound amount of knowledge just to approach their work. Kooser believes art must be accessible, and he writes not for the academic crowd, but for, as an example, the people he worked with before he retired. To that end, Kooser’s poetry and prose tends to be abundantly descriptive and focused.

The talk reminded me of this post by Maclin Horton:

It helps to alleviate the melancholy of contemplating these situations to remember that in none of them do we know the end of the story. Many years ago, in the mid-1970s, I made the decision, for purely pragmatic reasons, to give up my plans for an academic career in literature and to take up a practical trade, studying computer science. Some time after that I ran into an acquaintance whom I hadn?t seen for five or six years. We were standing in line for something or other and briefly catching up on what each of us had been doing. I told him I was learning to be a computer programmer and added, perhaps a bit defensively, that this was an odd place for me to end up. He replied, “Well, maybe you ain’t finished ending up yet.”