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January 25, 2006

'I don't believe readers should be expected to learn something in order to understand a poem' — U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser

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Odd that I should have to read the Financial Times to find out who our poet laureate (above) is.

He was interviewed by Angel Gurría Quintana for a story which appeared in the January 11 issue.

Kooser would not play well with others, if those others were Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and Anne Carson, who require the reader to have a reference library at hand in order to "get" their work.

Me, all I want is for you to be half–awake.

But I digress — this isn't about me, for crying out loud.

Jeez.

Why do you even bother any more?

Hey, that's a great question: why do I even bother?

Enough.

Kooser's poem "Selecting a Reader" nicely illustrates both his style and his point of view: it follows.

    Selecting a Reader

    First, I would have her beautiful
    and walking carefully up on my poetry
    at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
    her hair still damp at the neck
    from washing it. She would be wearing
    a raincoat, an old one, dirty
    from not having money enough for the cleaners.
    She will take out her glasses, and there
    in the bookstore, she will thumb
    over my poems, then put the book back
    up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
    'For that kind of money, I can get
    my raincoat cleaned.'
    And she will.

********************

Kooser writes a weekly column, "American Life in Poetry," which currently appears in 134 newspapers; you can read it here.

FunFact: James Joyce referred to Eliot as "Tears Eliot."

More on Kooser?

OK, here's the Financial Times story.

    'Enjoying a Poem Shouldn't Be Hard'

    For someone holding the most conspicuous job a poet in the US could aspire to, Ted Kooser is unaffectedly low-key.

    Soft-spoken and self-deprecating, the 67-year-old was appointed poet laureate for a second consecutive term in April 2005, in the same week that he was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his 10th book of poems, "Delights and Shadows".

    Unlike British laureates, whose appointment is for 10 years and who are expected to compose poetry on significant national occasions, poet laureate consultants in poetry are chosen annually by the US librarian of Congress to serve "as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans" and to "raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry", for which they receive a privately endowed stipend.

    "I think of the job as being a kind of public relations specialist for poetry," Kooser has said.

    The opening pages of his recently published "The Poetry Home Repair Manual" explain why such a role is so necessary.

    "I'll venture that 99 per cent of the people who read The New Yorker prefer the cartoons to the poems," he writes.

    "A lot of this resistance to poetry is to be blamed on poets."

    I ask whether he considers this a uniquely US problem.

    "I'm not intelligent enough, or informed enough, to answer that question. But it's a fact that a lot of people in this country are turned off by poetry."

    One reason, he thinks, is that young readers usually learn at school that understanding a poem is hard work, "like cracking a walnut and digging out the meat".

    He believes that critical acclaim for the late work of poets such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound fuelled the notion that a poem's impenetrability is a sign of its quality.

    "I detest elitism of any kind," he says.

    "There's been this assumption along with modernism that the reader should come halfway to the work. I frankly don't believe readers should be expected to make an effort to learn something in order to understand a poem. I've never met readers like that, although I'm sure there are some, particularly on campuses. I'm not saying it's not all right to write challenging poetry. But the sort of reader I'm interested in is the average person on the street."

    The poem "Selecting a Reader", from his collection "True Signs", illustrates Kooser's transparent style and reveals, with tongue in cheek, what he expects from a prospective audience.

    "First, I would have her beautiful/ and walking carefully up on my poetry/ at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,/ her hair still damp at the neck/ from washing it. She would be wearing/ a raincoat, an old one, dirty/ from not having money enough for the cleaners./ She will take out her glasses, and there/ in the bookstore, she will thumb/ over my poems, then put the book back/ up on its shelf. She will say to herself,/ 'For that kind of money, I can get/ my raincoat cleaned.' And she will."

    His poetry dwells on closely observed moments of daily life, imbuing the most commonplace images - an unbroken beer-bottle in a roadside ditch, a jar of buttons, an ageing tattooed man at a yard sale - with an almost childlike surprise.

    He was profoundly influenced, he admits, by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), appointed poet laureate in 1952, whose belief that there are "no ideas but in things" is best exemplified by his poem "The Red Wheelbarrow": "so much depends upon/ a red wheelbarrow/ glazed with rain water/ beside the white chickens."

    "I learnt from Williams that material for poetry is all around us, that ordinary objects are made special by drawing attention to them. His poem could very well say: 'So much depends upon a galvanised bucket standing on the side of the house.' So much depends upon anything, really. I also like the fact that Williams led a life of service in other ways than through his poetry," he adds, referring to Williams' job as a paediatrician.

    Kooser himself worked in the insurance business for 35 years, before retiring in 1999. (This often draws comparisons with Wallace Stevens, another US poet who toiled in insurance.)

    "I knew early in life that I would never be able to make a living as a poet," he explains, "and that if I wanted to support myself and a family I would need to find a job that wouldn't take every ounce of energy I had, so that I'd be able to write in my spare time. The insurance job was that."

    Much has been made of Kooser's being the first poet laureate from the US's Great Plains.

    Born in Ames, Iowa, he has lived in Nebraska since he was a graduate student.

    He now lives on a farm outside the town of Garland, some 20 miles from the state capital, Lincoln.

    He has written about the region in a delightful prose volume, "Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps".

    The Alps in the title are a playful allusion to the nearby range of low hills, settled in the 1870s by Czech and German immigrants.

    "Contrary to what out-of-state tourists might tell you," the book begins, "Nebraska isn't flat but slightly tilted, like a long church-basement table with the legs on one end not perfectly snapped in place, not quite enough of a slant for the tuna-and-potato-chip casseroles to slide off into the Missouri river... Across this plain, the Platte river meanders from side to side, like a man who has lost a hubcap and is looking for it in the high grass on both sides of the road."

    Most of Kooser's predecessors have been east coast or west coast writers, and I ask if he believes there is such a thing as a Midwest or Great Plains sensibility in his work.

    "Frankly I don't. There's been a lot of talk about that, and people say things about my work that always surprise me. In "Delights and Shadows", for instance, there are many poems with nothing specifically tied to the Great Plains: the guy with the tattoo in the yard sale, the woman in the wheelchair - they could be anyone. My guess is there's something that readers want to impose on the poems. If I'd lived all my life in Idaho or Connecticut I would probably be writing the same kind of poetry. It would take a lot smarter person than me to sum up a Midwestern philosophy."

    He even teamed up with the Arizona-based poet, novelist and scriptwriter Jim Harrison, an old friend, to publish a slim volume of haiku-like poems, "Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry".

    "That book collects all those little snatches of poetry in our 20-year correspondence."

    Harrison was also the recipient of the poems in Kooser's most personal compilation, "Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison", composed as he recovered from cancer.

    "I'd been extremely ill, snapping out of the radiation thing, and was trying to bring myself back to some kind of health. I started taking these walks before the sun came out. On my walks I would notice things. I was training myself to look at things. One morning I came home and wrote a poem, and was thrilled that I could write again after many months of being terribly depressed. I took reassurance from the fact that I could create a little patch of order amid a tremendous sense of chaos. I began writing a poem every day, pasting them on postcards and sending them to Jim."

    A poem in "Delights and Shadows", "Surviving", explores how fear of death, "ubiquitous as light", forces the poet to notice a ladybird.

    How, I ask, did disease affect the way he observed the world around him?

    "You become very alert to the details of life. You spend time noticing things. What comes out of it is a sense of awe and celebration."

    Yet even his early work - poems about the very old, about an abandoned farmhouse, a child's grave, a friend's failed suicide, a goldfish that "floats to the top of his life" - seems steeped in an elegiac sense of life's frailty.

    Kooser's images avoid sentimentality by dwelling on the specific - a widow scrubbing the floor around a toilet bowl one last time, someone emptying a medicine cabinet after a funeral.

    "Sentimentality," Kooser warns, "is the product of generalisation."

    When discussing his personal contribution to the poet laureate's post, he claims to have simply added to his immediate predecessor Billy Collins's efforts to show that poetry can be accessible to broader audiences.

    He is understandably proud of his column, "American Life in Poetry", freely licensed to interested publications, in which he introduces a new living American poet every week.

    "At last report, we were in 134 newspapers and had a potential circulation of 9.6m readers."

January 25, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Official bookofjoe cardio workout top

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But only in the color pictured above and below — "Light Poison Green."

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$48 here.

You'll want the "Cardio Kick Long Sport Top" — Item #104642.

If you're mourning your company's having put bookofjoe off–limits at work you might prefer the black iteration.

Unfortunately Nike's advertising division drank their ad agency's Kool–Aid so the company's website is replete with Flash — slow, annoying and difficult to navigate.

Other than that, it's perfect.

Be patient while you travel to where you want to go.

Isn't it interesting (in a linguistic sense) that having Flash always slows things down?

Counterintuitive, what?

January 25, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Fortunetelling for profit is a violation of Maryland law'

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For a moment there last Saturday morning, glancing at a story on the front page of the Washington Post Metro section, I thought I was still asleep and dreaming.

Person #1 Are your eyes closed?

Person #2 Why?

Person #1 'Cause you must be dreaming.

I'm usually Person #1 in the folly masquerading as my life.

But I digress.

Who knew fortunetelling for profit was illegal in Maryland?

Here's the Post story, by Ernest Londoño.

    Trio Charged in Maryland Fortunetelling Scheme

    Police Say Montgomery Woman Paid Thousands to Have 'Curse' Removed

    The fortuneteller offered to quash an ancient curse that plagued Linli Mckay and her family with the help of an egg and dollar bills galore.

    Montgomery County authorities say Mckay's real curse was her happenstance meeting with the Chevy Chase fortuneteller at a mall last January.

    Their subsequent relationship, which authorities say bilked Mckay, 56, of Poolesville, out of more than $75,000, has landed the 60-year-old fortuneteller, her husband and one of their daughters in court.

    They are charged with theft, conspiracy and fortunetelling.

    Fortunetelling for profit is a violation of Maryland law.

    Montgomery County Assistant State's Attorney Carol Crawford said the fortuneteller, Grace Uwanawich, almost certainly will face additional charges as detectives learn more about her work.

    Montgomery County District Court Judge Louis D. Harrington released Uwanawich and her daughter, Christine Kelly Miller, 26, on $75,000 bonds yesterday, despite Crawford's concern that they were likely to flee the state and prevent other potential victims from contacting authorities.

    George Uwanawich, 52, was not released because authorities are investigating whether he violated the terms of his release on probation in a South Florida drug case.

    Relatives of the defendants and two attorneys representing the family declined to comment after the bond hearing.

    Police said Grace Uwanawich met Mckay last January at Lake Forrest Mall. According to investigators, Grace Uwanawich presented herself as a Native American palmist and psychic with more than 30 years of experience who provided services worldwide, and Mckay made an appointment to see the fortuneteller at her Connecticut Avenue apartment.

    Authorities said Grace Uwanawich told Mckay that she and her family had a curse "dating back to the building of the Great Wall of China."

    Mckay, who is of Chinese descent, was told the curse, which she inherited from her mother, would keep everyone in her family indefinitely unhappy and poor.

    Attempts to reach Mckay were unsuccessful.

    Grace Uwanawich said her services were free, but she requested that Mckay bring her all her money so it could be taken to a church to "clean it of bad spirits," and then it would be returned to her, police said.

    According to a charging document, the fortuneteller gave Mckay a candle to burn at home and told her to put an egg under her bed before going to sleep.

    Mckay brought the egg back the next meeting, and the fortuneteller wrapped it in a handkerchief and cracked it.

    "Mckay smelled a bad odor and observed that the egg contained hair and something that she described as looking like a chicken liver," Detective Brandon Mengedoht wrote in the court document.

    "Grace stated that it was from her curse and that it was the devil."

    Mckay was asked to liquidate her bank accounts, police said.

    She sold her stocks and borrowed $55,000 from her sister, police said.

    Mckay also was asked to use her American Express card to pick up the tab for a $3,098 Saks Fifth Avenue gift certificate, $8,119 in Cartier jewelry and $1,900 in items from Hermes, according to the police document.

    Police said she also was asked to buy a 2006 Mercedes-Benz, which she was told she would be able to drive once the curse was lifted.

    She never got in the car, which was found parked in front of the Connecticut Avenue apartment.

    When Mckay ran out of cash, Grace Uwanawich asked her to sell her house, police said.

    Mckay said she could not do so because she lived with relatives.

    Crawford, the prosecutor, said yesterday that detectives recently learned from another victim that shortly after the Jan. 11 arrest of the three family members, one of the couple's daughters called the second victim to tell her that Grace Uwanawich had been assaulted while cleansing her curse.

    The victim was told not to turn on the television or touch the phone, Crawford said.

********************

Yeah, yeah, I hear you.

Will everyone who's paid me to have their fortunes told since bookofjoe began (several thousand people, would be my best estimate) please get in touch and let me know how much you were charged — I will refund every penny (with interest).

From this moment on I'm working for nothing.

I mean, it would appear I've got that down pretty well by now, what?

January 25, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

3M Post-it Arrow Flags

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They're the latest addition to the treadmill–side accessory selection here at bookofjoe World Headquarters.

For many years I've found Post–it notes invaluable for any number of things.

The last time I made a visit to my local Office Depot (better organized and easier to get to than its Staples counterpart) to meet and greet my fans — odd, now that I think about it, there weren't any there... maybe my publicity people got the day wrong... ya think?) I stopped at the Post-it display after I'd picked up my usual (1.5" x 2" original yellow and 3" x 3" bright colors) pads and looked carefully at the many varieties of Post-it-related items.

The flags (above and below) caught my interest.

There were four different shapes and styles that were similar so I bought one of each because with things like this you simply can't tell by looking and thinking about it which one will best meet your needs.

Now that I think about it, it's a lot like that with people, isn't it?

There's just no substitute for a really demanding road test — as it were.

But I digress.

The Post-its pictured here passed my test and are now stand–bys which I use every day.

You will appreciate that with my current treadmill–side materials platform being 18" x 28", nothing can be up there that isn't crucial to accomplishing my mission.

Which is...?

I forget for now but no matter, it'll come back to me in a decade or two, I'm certain.

The flags come in two varieties: Standard Colors (above) — 24 each in red, green, yellow and blue; and Bright Colors (below), a total of 96 flags/pack, with 24 apiece in 4 colors: bright pink, bright green, bright yellow and bright blue.

You can write on them easily which adds to their functionality.

Each flag measures 0.5" x 1.7".

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They cost $2.66 for a pack of 96 here.

The very cleverly designed dispenser is lagniappe.

One day soon I'll take a picture of the current desktop (real world version) and describe each item and why I find it indispensable for what I do.

What, joe, did you say that was, anyway...?

The unveiling of treadmill desk Version 2.0 approaches, by the way: soon.

In fact, real soon now....

Ha.

January 25, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Batspeed.com — 'The most comprehensive study of the baseball swing on the web'

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Tell you what: this website would have held my undivided attention for a long, long time back when I was a boy and dreaming of a career in the Major Leagues.

But there are boys reading this today who may well profit from it and eventually make it to "The Show."

Play ball!

January 25, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ultra–Long 12–Motor Heated Massage Cushion

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This thing's got more motors than a Mercedes–Benz seat.

From the website:

    12-motor massager with heat provides an all-over body massage in most chairs or on your bed.

    Therapeutic massaging action delivers customized relief for tension and sore muscles.

    12 motors in six massage zones isolate individual muscle groups.

    Lumbar heat option for enhanced lower back relief.

    Three programs, four intensity settings and four speeds allow further customization.

    Adjustable headrest and backlit remote control.

    Automatic 20-minute shutoff conserves power and adds safety.

Dimensions: 67" x 20" x 3".

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$150 here (chair not included).

January 25, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rose Nader, Mother of Ralph, Dies at 99 — 'The apple does not fall far from the tree'

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The truth of this old saw was never better illustrated than in the 1955 event that brought Rose Nader (above, with her son) into public visibility.

Senator Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of presidents, visited Mrs. Nader's hometown of Winsted, Connecticut following a catastrophic flood.

She approached the senator at a public gathering; "he offered his hand in an obligatory fashion," wrote Adam Bernstein in yesterday's Washington Post obituary.

"Mrs. Nader latched on and refused to free him until he promised to help a dry–dam proposal move forward. This was fulfilled."

Here's the wonderful obituary in its entirety.

    Rose Nader; Activist In Connecticut Home Town

    Rose Nader, 99, who jousted with politicians and complacency as a small-town activist and was the mother of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, died Jan. 20 at her home in Winsted, Conn.

    She had congestive heart failure.

    Mrs. Nader developed a certain civic renown in 1955 when she confronted Sen. Prescott Bush (R-Conn.), the father and grandfather of presidents.

    Bush's visit to Winsted followed a catastrophic flood, and he was approached by Mrs. Nader at a public gathering.

    When he offered his hand in an obligatory fashion, Mrs. Nader latched on and refused to free him until he promised to help a dry-dam proposal move forward.

    This was fulfilled.

    Later, she advocated building a community center for children, forming a speakers club that would bring worldly lecturers to the town, and expanding and preserving a local hospital.

    At home, she could be implacable, particularly about food.

    She emphasized homemade items over packaged goods whose contents she found bewildering.

    She prohibited hot dogs and later beef in general because of the presence of a growth-stimulating hormone linked to cancer.

    She sweetened food with honey, not sugar, and pushed her children to eat chickpeas instead of candy bars on their way to school.

    When news of this was publicized during Ralph Nader's rise to prominence, the Wall Street Journal editorial page likened his mother to a Puritan.

    This characterization was laughed at by her children, even as they promoted the story involving her distrustful relationship with chocolate.

    Mrs. Nader later said: "When the children convinced me that chocolate-frosted birthday cakes were what all the other children wanted, I frosted the cake, but after the candles were blown out and before they cut into the cake, I removed the frosting. Some people might say I was severe, but it became a family joke."

    She later wrote a cookbook.

    Rose Bouziane was born in Zahle, Lebanon, on Feb. 7, 1906, to a sheep broker and a teacher.

    She taught high school French and Arabic before her marriage in 1925 to businessman Nathra Nader.

    After immigrating to the United States, they settled in Connecticut, where his Main Street bakery-restaurant-general store in Winsted, in the northwestern corner of the state, became a redoubt for residents bemoaning actions or inactions at the town hall.

    On occasion, Mrs. Nader used newspaper opinion pages to express her views.

    Writing in the New York Times in 1982, she denounced the use of "credibility phrases," such as "frankly," "to tell you the truth" and "in all honesty," that sometimes preceded a political statement or sales pitch.

    They gave her "the pervasive feeling that distrust is so widespread that people need to use such language to be believed."

    In another editorial, she embraced mass mailings from issue groups that are commonly dismissed as "junk mail."

    She wrote that they often come from people "who care about their times."

    Her husband died in 1991. A son, Shafeek Nader, died in 1986.

    Besides Ralph Nader of Washington, survivors include two daughters, Claire Nader of Washington and Winsted and Laura Nader of Berkeley, Calif.; a sister; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

    Ralph Nader once said his mother "took us out in the yard one day and asked us if we knew the price of eggs, of apples, of bananas. Then she asked us to put a price on clean air, the sunshine, the song of birds -- and we were stunned."

January 25, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'The Amazing One–Stop Measuring Cup!'

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Can your measuring cup do this?

Didn't think so.

From the website:

    This clearly marked container will handle measuring, melting, warming and cooking... all by itself!

    Designed to handle stovetop and oven temperatures with stay–cool handle.

    The glass is marked in cups, ounces and metric units.

    Dishwasher– and microwave–safe.

    Holds over 2 cups.

    4.75" H.

Sure, OXO's got the ergonomic thing going and all but they don't have a patch on this puppy when it comes to heat 'n serve.

$10.46 here.

January 25, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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