Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards To Jim Harrison, by Ted Kooser
Sometimes a book of poems surprises you in a very good way. I must admit that before reading this book I was not familiar at all with the poems of the onetime Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and this book was an excellent first look at his approach to poetry, although I cannot consider it a very common book of poetry. Indeed, this book of poetry suggests the sort of exercise that would be useful to many of us who are poets, and that is committing to writing poems that can fit on a postcard to someone who is an appreciative reader out of whom an entire volume of poems like this one can be selected . While I do not know of any readers of mine who would appreciate daily poems of the kind that this one represents, this book certainly does a good job at providing a worthwhile concept for some truly arresting and intriguing short poems, many of which are of the kind that I could see myself reading if I lived in the country or if I was writing poems about the place in the country where I spend a fair amount of time.
This short book of poetry consists, as its title suggests, 100 short poems written on postcards from the author to a friend and sometime collaborator of his. All of the poems are short, and they are organized in chronological fashion from November 9, 1998 to March 20, 1999. One might think that the task of writing poems, all of which include the temperature during the morning when it was taken before the poem was written, would be a tiresome one, but the constraints the author subjected himself appear to make this all the more interesting as an exercise, and one that is worth repeating for others. As a way of overcoming depression and understanding that someone cares that one is alive, this book of poetry is therapeutic as well as deeply poignant and thoughtful to read. The poems are written in free verse, but are full of alliteration and vivid imagery that gives the reader an impressionistic sketch of a winter scene being discussed. We see frosty fingers and a “deeply troubled, sighing furnace” trying to heat the house in the midst of the chill, and the reader can imagine oneself witnessing or experiencing the same scene that is being discussed concisely but beautifully.
How is it that this book works so well? For one, its theme keeps its contents focused on the experience of observing and writing about winter scenes. For another, the author is skilled at finding something worth writing about, taking in a scene and making compelling poetry out of it. This sort of exercise would appear to hone the author’s creativity by giving him something to do daily, a way of overcoming listlessness and melancholy, and by giving him an audience who cared about what he has to say, something every author needs, no matter the genre. This book manages to do several things at once. For one, it shows a poet engaged in a worthwhile exercise of writing his insights on a particular period of time where he happens to live, and contain some very observant details. For another, the book is the kind that not only encouraged the author in its creation but also encourages others in reading it and in pondering whether such an effort could be done by other people at other times with the same worthwhile benefits in encouraging a daily pattern of watching the conditions of one’s world as well as recording it and sending it to someone else, an audience of one that will be merely the first of many appreciative readers.
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