Book Review: Splitting An Order

Splitting An Order, by Ted Kooser

This book is without a doubt one of the finest in the volumes that I have read of Kooser’s poetry.  And this book is a worthwhile reminder of what it takes to make great poetry [1][, and that is a combination of skill with words and putting them together in a memorable and elegant fashion as well as the observation of reality that provides the raw material for so many of these wonderful poems.  Fortunately, Kooser shows both observational skills to a high degree as well as the ability to put these skills to good use through his obvious linguistic talents.  And to be sure, some of the poems in here are truly great poems, poems that deserve to be anthologized, poems that deserve to be read and read out loud and thought upon and remembered.  It is deeply sad that so often the only audience for the work of poets is other poets, but in this case the audience is likely to appreciate this work for the achievement it is, and to fill in some the desire to emulate the work and to see if some of its greatness can rub off on our own poetic efforts.

The poems in this collection are divided into four unequal parts, the last one containing only a couple of poems.  Since there appears to be no thematic divide, perhaps the poems are divided according to when they were written, in which case the last part would be the last couple poems that winded up the collection after some break and that made it a complete volume.  Included in this book are some really insightful poems, including one touching poem about a woman whose husband is dying and whose grief is plainly visible but also impossible to share in its fullness.  There is the titular poem about two old people splitting a sandwich order between them and showing each other love and affection in their dotage.  But for me at least, the poem that is the most moving and most notable in this entire collection is “Small Rooms In Time,” which tells a complex story of a set of rooms in a building where the author and his first wife and child spent some time, where later on there was a murder of a small town over some drugs that were supposed to be there (but were not there), and the fact that the building appears to be cursed and rundown in the aftermath of that murder, which leads the poet to a complex series of thoughts on the ravages of time that are moving and deeply insightful.

The poems in this book appear to be part of a three step process of sorts.  The first is the observation of something striking, be it an aspect of creation or an interaction between people or a reflection on one’s own life and history, or, in the case of “Small Rooms In Time,” a story on the news.  After that comes the way the poet reflects on these observations and incidents and records them on paper.  But after that there is a part of the process that I think is often forgotten in these times, and that is the reading and reflecting and response to the poetry on the part of the reader of the poems.  Perhaps the greatest shame that poems are so seldom read is that reading great poetry often inspires us to write poetry ourselves, but if the only audience for poems are those people who already write them themselves, then the inspiration is limited to those who are already poetic themselves, and so poets carry on beautiful and touching conversations with each other, but no one else bothers to listen and so no one else catches the inspiration themselves.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/05/book-review-one-hundred-and-one-famous-poems/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/05/21/book-review-across-the-land-and-the-water/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/05/05/book-review-selected-poems-nabokov/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/27/book-review-the-darkness-around-us-is-deep/

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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One Response to Book Review: Splitting An Order

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Scribbled In The Dark: Poems | Edge Induced Cohesion

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