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Splitting an Order
Splitting an Order
Ted Kooser
Copper Canyon Press, 2014
96 pp., $23.00

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Tania Runyan


It Is What It Is

The poetry of Ted Kooser: plainspoken, not plain.

"Hedgehog Inadvertently Plays a Respectable Measure of Jazz Just By Walking Atop Piano Keys."

How could I not click on that headline in my Facebook feed? Upon pressing the play arrow, I was delighted with six seconds of prickly pudge waddling over keys in a minor progression. I clicked several more times and even shared the link to my wall, still spending less than 40 seconds of my day.

I'm a poet and woman of faith, I tell myself. I don't succumb to the shiny objects of digital distraction. I can meditate on God's graces and the smallest details of ordinary, headline-free life.

In reality, I rarely do. I don't notice old men cutting sandwiches, women browsing greeting cards, and rusty coffee cans at estate sales. But in his collection Splitting an Order, Ted Kooser makes these mundanities worthy opponents to today's flashy interruptions. No, he makes them victors.

Kooser, author of several poetry collections (including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Delights & Shadows), nonfiction works, and children's books, was US Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. Well known as a "people's poet," he continues to advocate for the art through his weekly column, American Life in Poetry. Although appreciated for its plainspoken language, Kooser's work should never be mistaken as plain. His is a fierce imagination that envisions planetary topographies in a shabby baseball and describes a spinach seed as "a tiny brown leather valise / packed with green scarves." Splitting an Order, like the celebrated Delights & Shadows, reveals the truths found in moments and objects—a single spinach seed—that routinely escape our vision. But with almost a decade between volumes, the more recent book resonates with the melancholy wisdom found in older age.

Like a hedgehog on a keyboard, life passes in a moment, that moment rich with unfathomable echoes and chords. The approach of death only intensifies the insistence ...

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