Friday, December 11, 2015

AP English Ramblings (Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader")

Hello! This really has nothing to do with books, or my blog, or - well, anything, really, but I was really stuck getting started on an English project. When I get completely stymied on any sort of writing assignment, my last resort is to open up a new blog post and spew out my thoughts as though I were talking to you, my readers. I've found it only really works, though, if I know I'm really going to post my thoughts - so feel free to ignore this, because I'm just posting it purely for my own psyche. If I don't, then it won't work next time I get stuck. If you're interested, the poem I'm explicating is Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader," which you can check out here. And of course if you have any insight into the poem or my analysis, I would be happy to hear it!

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Gosh, I'm starting to hate this poem.

I'm sorry, you don't even know what I'm talking about, do you? Well, for AP English I have to write a paper about a living poet, describing his life and outlook and all that jazz and then explicating one of his poems. I chose Ted Kooser, and his poem "Selecting a Reader." He's a great poet, and it's a wonderful poem, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to put two words together about it without sounding like an idiot. I've been rolling this assignment around for about a week now, and I really need to get some serious pen to paper because it's due in a week and a half.

I figured it would be pretty easy to explicate - but oh, well, what do I know? The whole poem is one big laugh from Kooser as far as I can tell. He begins with this really poetic image - you know what I mean, poetic as in pretty and sort of ethereal - of a woman who seems to have walked right out of some romantic-period poem. She doesn't just go to read the poems, she "walks carefully up on" them, venturing out at the "loneliest moment of an afternoon." Traditional poetry from the romantic period often involved scenes from the loneliest time of day, when time seemed to truly stand still and nature itself plays companion to the poet. So with these lines Kooser seems to harken to those images of beauty and tranquility. The next line tells us that the girl's hair is "damp at the neck," which slightly revises the original image of the girl into a slightly more substantial one; this is no elf in the forest sitting down to read Kooser's poems, but instead a girl whose hair can become wet. It calls to mind images of alluring, mysterious models with wet hair, the kind that men always find so attractive.

This alluring image is damped by the next line, which informs us that her hair is wet for the very ordinary reason that she had washed it. It is from here on out that Kooser truly lets loose, however, as he completely demolishes the more traditionally "poetic" images that have been playing in the reader's head and shows just what sort of person is really reading his poetry. She's wearing an old, dirty raincoat, she needs glasses to read his poems - glasses always mean a diminishing of beauty in popular culture, but they also carry connotations of being old and stodgy, because so many elderly people need bifocals to read - and, of course, she actually decides to get her raincoat cleaned rather than buy Kooser's poems!

One very interesting thing about the character in "Selecting a Reader" is that she must be truly destitute. It costs very little get a raincoat cleaned - certainly under ten dollars - and yet the woman is so poor that she hasn't done it and indeed can only do it by giving up Kooser's poems. What's even more interesting than her poverty is the fact that, despite it, she is still drawn to the poems in the first place. What can an impoverished individual gain at a book store? Nothing - no physical nourishment, certainly. And yet she still comes, still picks Kooser's poems off the shelf. She flips through and enjoys a few up the poems, and then she puts them back and makes a logical decision: she decides to get her raincoat cleaned rather than buy the book of poems. This sort of hard-headed practicality about poetry doesn't seem like the behavior that would appeal to most writers in Kooser's place, but it does to him. This is because Kooser writes his poems for people like the woman in "Selecting a Reader," people who have their heads in the real world rather than up in the clouds. Anyone can marvel at a lovely view when they're looking around at the sky above the clouds; it takes a poet like Kooser to help people find the beauty in the everyday world around them. That's who his poems are for, and that's why - when thinking about the sort of reader he would select - he opts for the sort of person who is wide-eyed enough to not be taken in by descriptions of a world of exquisite beauty they have never actually beheld.

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