American Life in Poetry: Column 298

Ted Kooser created American Life in Poetry as a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications to promote poetry and add value for print and online readers. To round out a theme recently on the blog of different programs that exists to help add poetry to your day, I thought it would be nice to highlight Kooser's project he started as, official title, Poet Laureate Consulate in Poetry to the Library of Congress during 2004-2006.

Each week, Kooser gives a brief introduction to a contemporary poem. These poems, since I have started following the column that is conveniently placed in your inbox, often align with Kooser's aesthetic: more narrative in style, contemplative in mood, given over to a speaker that is affected by their environment and comments to some length about the effect, and, to be honest, a little dull (click to read a Ted Kooser poem). However, dull only because they don't fit my own aesthetic preference, which tends toward the surreal, and so I'm not as surprised by what I read and yada, yada, yada.

As poems, they have been solid. This week's poem is by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz and is called "At the office Holiday Party."

I can now confirm that I am not just fatter
than everyone I work with, but I’m also fatter
than all their spouses. Even the heavily bearded
bear in accounting has a little otter-like boyfriend.

When my co-workers brightly introduce me
as “the funny one in the office,” their spouses
give them a look which translates to, Well, duh,
then they both wait for me to say something funny.

A gaggle of models comes shrieking into the bar
to further punctuate why I sometimes hate living
in this city. They glitter, a shiny gang of scissors.
I don’t know how to look like I’m not struggling.

Sometimes on the subway back to Queens,
I can tell who’s staying on past the Lexington stop
because I have bought their shoes before at Payless.
They are shoes that fool absolutely no one.

Everyone wore their special holiday party outfits.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the bar that I realized
my special holiday party outfit was exactly the same
as the outfits worn by the restaurant’s busboys.

While I’m standing in line for the bathroom,
another patron asks if I’m there to clean it.

Forgive the font. The font used is a little grating to read, and it makes the poem seem as if it was scrawled with a crayon. This, though, might be a subtle way to knock poetry off its false high-horse, a problem that alienates many would-be readers of poetry because they feel it is "too hard" or they feel "excluded." Certainly there are poets who actively seek to do just that (keep out readers) or make their poems difficult (see Modernism), but Kooser is not interested in those poets, and for good reason. The poems he chooses are meant for a large audience, and that's a good thing.

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