Saturday, August 3, 2013

Valentines, by Ted Kooser

A self-described flirt, Ted Kooser for 20+ years sent out Valentine's poems to women that he knew and, in later years, to women who had given him their addresses at readings and book signings (his wife Kathleen did not mind, he reports). This slim book is a collection of those poems, which Kooser describes as "meant for the reader's fun." And the poems are fun. In the first he writes of keeping a valentine in his pocket, pulling it out to check whether the poem was "right" and hoping that when the recipient finds the valentine, it will still be warm from its time in his pocket.

He writes of hearts--paper hearts, celery and artichoke hearts, ancient heart-shaped maps, the leavings in a box of those Valentine "message hearts," a woman inventorying the candy at a store. He writes of leaving a valentine in the hayloft; of running into two men in an alley, who he imagines think he is looking for a Valentine bouquet in the trash; an ice skater who, after completing a jump, smiles back at "the woman she had been just a instant before"; and, in one of the collection's most touching poems, an elderly couple sharing a sandwich in a restaurant.

The poems are charmingly illustrated with pen and ink drawings meant by artist Robert Hanna to "reflect the aesthetic temper of Ted's writing space." All in all, reading Valentines is a most enjoyable experience.

Favorite passage:
From "Song of the Ironing Board"
. . .
I lean against the wall and breathe
the drifting smoke of memory,
the stained chemise pulled over
most scorched yet ever shining heart.

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