Book Review: Flying At Night

Flying At Night:  Poems 1965-1985, by Ted Kooser

This is the second book by the poet I have read, and it serves as a bit of a “best of” compilation, something that is common in poetry [1].  While it is certainly a very worthwhile collection of most excellent poetry, it is by no means an easy book to recommend for all readers.  The particular excellence of this book consists of the poet’s dark reflections on death, illness, and the ravages of time, as well as the triviality of the lives of so many people.  Perhaps ironically, the author’s turning of the material of contemporary life into moving poetry serves to point out how trivial most people’s understanding of their existence is, because he manages to make experiences that are neglected or forgotten into poetry of the highest order.  When someone can write moving poetry on book clubs, walking to work, and the basement of a Goodwill store, no one has any excuse to view anything as beneath poetic excellence and attention, as is often the case for many.  These poems may not be fun to read, but they are certainly worth reading and reflecting on and serving as the inspiration for one’s own musings.

The nearly 150 pages of poems here, including nearly as many poems, are divided into two sections, with the titles of “Sure Signs” and “One World At A Time.”  The author sets the tone for the book from the first poem, which shows the author selecting a reader who enjoys the poems and looks through them but figures that for the price of the book she can spend it on something more useful, and then she does.  Other poems reflect on the seasons, the country of the midwest, dying at work, people with various ailments like hobbled feet and hearing aids, and even such matters as having to take a urine sample in order to get a job.  Some poets may be accused of writing about recondite subjects that are far too obscure or estoeric for ordinary readers, but the poetry of Kooser manages to strike the right touch between short impressionistic sketches as well as realistic portrayals of prosaic lives.  The poetry manages to be both beautiful as well as relatable, and the author even manage to write about politics without causing offense, something that is rarely even attempted at present.

This poetry is certainly better to read for free, by reading a library copy, rather than paying for, but all the same it is worth more than just reading.  This is the sort of poetry that hopefully has inspired at least some of its readers to write.  For the artist, every experience or observation is fuel for art, and that is clearly the case here.  As someone who has written poetry on the broken doors of office restrooms or the broken software that companies use, the poems are definitely ones that I can appreciate as someone whose on poetic beat and approach are not very far from this one.  To be sure, these poems were published more than thirty years ago, but they feel fresh, in large part because they are written about the author’s observations and experience and still feel like stories told as memories.  Given the wide variety in time as well as subject matter as well as the author’s winsome manner in writing and his wry and ironic tone, this book is certainly a pleasure to read.  Any poet who can switch from talking to a late-marrying widow who wanted to keep her husband’s smelly feet against him like a chit until he died while working on the farm to writing about how to clean a bass and then what it is like to get to the office early deserves one’s respect and regard.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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