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More on poetry
Drift from a Driftless place
JOHN GIBBS finished up his western adventures at a Farm-n-Fleet in Las Vegas, browsing the hat section. He'd been on the lookout for a good cowboy hat, and no surprise, he found his dream chapeau in the Wild, Wild West.

GAYS MILLS - Last week’s column was about poetry. If you watched the Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday, you saw examples of how powerful poetry can be. Joe Biden quoted a hymn in his address. Amanda Gorman, the outstanding National Youth Poet Laureate (a position which I didn’t realize we had - she‘s our first) wowed the viewing audience with her poem ‘The Hill We Climb.’ The music was all poetry.

So poetry is a presence in our lives. And poetry is a varied, creative, and diverse way of expressing all manner of human emotions, situations, and feelings. Some people like obtuse, confusing poems that seem like a stream of the writer’s conscious. Some of these poems are hard to ‘get.’ I prefer poems that are easy to get: clear, understandable, and relatable. One of my favorites, ‘Casey at the Bat,’ tells a story and entertains. Written in 1888, it has held up well for all these years. Another favorite, by Longfellow 1807-1882, is ‘The Village Blacksmith.’ It’s a poem about a job that has become obsolete, but a poem that still can educate folks about the dignity of work.

One sub-category of poetry you may have heard about is cowboy poetry. There has been a surge in the popularity of, and additions to, this colorful branch of the uniquely American poetry tree. The theory, the back story of cowboy poetry, is that working cowboys had to provide their own entertainment around their campfires out in the wild. Many of them sang, of course, but many of them learned poems to share. The poems are touching and often humorous. You have to appreciate, for example, a poem that ends with the line, “Always drink upstream from the herd”.

I don’t know why other occupational groups haven’t joined in the fun. Why just cowboys? Gosh, I bet over-the-road truck drivers could write some great poems about their day-to-day. Dairy farmers: what a rich vein of poetic fodder they deal with every day, some of it actual fodder. Every teacher I know could use a way to express the joy, frustration, fun, and challenges of guiding young people through the treacherous shoals of adolescence. 

I recently discovered, quite by accident, a currently active poet who has become my favorite. Browsing the new books at the Soldiers Grove Library one day, pre-Covid, the cover of a book caught my eye. I know, poor way to choose a book.  But Ted Kooser’s ‘Kindest Regards, New and Selected Poems’ got a quick look-through, a speedy checkout and I was an instant fan. Kooser was the Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 2004-2006. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his work in 2005.

Kooser’s poetry is noted for its tender wisdom and depiction of homespun America. His work is known for its clarity, precision, and accessibility. He relies heavily on metaphor and attention to the smallest detail. I look at things now, simple things, small things, and wonder: what would Ted say about that?