Ted Kooser is a poet that you really feel bad about picking on. He seems like Stanley Kunitz, such a gentle, benign soul, that one cannot take his poetry to task without a certain amount of guilt. And Kooser's poetry is not BAD. He is certainly more deserving than many others and certainly has skill. The problem isn't even with Kooser's poetry as a rule. Take it or leave it: he writes straight narrative poetry that is borderline sentimental. Some of it is very touching, most of it is uninteresting. Poems such as this one:
All night, this rain from the distant past.
No wonder I sometimes waken as a child.
Hardly seem poetry at all, while others in Delights and Shadows do show a certain amount of emotional complexity. Emotional complexity seems to be the driving force behind Kooser's poetry. But, for my money, poetry has to have an additional complexity -- that of language. Here's where Kooser often falls short. So why was Kooser elected Poet Laurete, and why is he published in all the major places? Well, that is obvious, but I'll complain anyhow. Americans, when they read poetry, which is almost never, want their poetry to be easily digestable. They don't want to have to work for anything. We live in the land of Hollywood movies and Judith Krantz novels. This kind of society -- when they throw poets a token bone -- throws it to Ted Kooser, Deborah Garrison, or Maya Angelou. Not to compare the former to the latter. Kooser does have talent.