April 23, 2008


Valentines by Ted Kooser
2008 University of Nebraska Press
Finished on 4/1/08
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

For Valentine's Day 1986, Ted Kooser wrote "Pocket Poem" and sent the tender, thoughtful composition to fifty women friends, starting an annual tradition that would persist for the next twenty-one years. Printed on postcards, the poems were mailed to a list of recipients that eventually grew to more than 2,500 women all over the United States. Valentines collects Kooser's twenty-two years of Valentine's Day Poems, complemented with illustrations by Robert Hanna and a new poem appearing for the first time.

Kooser's Valentine poems encompass all the facets of the holiday: the traditional hearts and candy, the brilliance and purity of love, the quiet beauty of friendship, and the bittersweetness of longing. Some of the poems use the word valentine, others do not, but there is never any doubt as to the purpose of Kooser's creations.

Ted Kooser knows my husband's boss and stopped by the office one day to sign copies of his book for the employees. Two years ago, Rod wrote a poem for me for Valentine's Day. This year he surprised me with a signed copy of Kooser's book! Here are a couple of my favorites:

The Bluet

Of all the flowers, the bluet has
the sweetest name, two syllables
that form on the lips, then fall
with a tiny, raindrop splash
into a suddenly bluer morning.

I offer you mornings like that,
fragrant with tiny blue blossoms--
each with four petals, each with a star
at its heart. I would give you whole fields
of wild perfume if only

you could be mine, if you were not--
like the foolish bluet (also called
innocence) -- always holding your face
to the fickle, careless, fly-by kiss
of the Clouded Sulpher Butterfly.


Splitting An Order

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to slowly unroll her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

This is a small collection that can easily be read in one sitting. I enjoyed some, but not all of the poems. I've read a few of Kooser's collections and there's usually just one or two poems that speak to me. Maybe I'm just not a big fan of poetry. I want to appreciate each and every one, but so many leave me wondering what the heck they were supposed to mean!

So, maybe I didn't love this book. But I love the idea that my husband wanted to give it to me for Valentine's Day. And, the funny thing is that Kooser came to my work for a book signing right around the same time he went to my husband's office. I missed the signing, but a couple of days before Valentine's Day, I picked up a copy and started to buy it for Rod, but then put it back, thinking he'd probably prefer a book about Winston Churchill. Wouldn't that have been a hoot if we'd both given each other the same autographed book? I can just imagine the look on both of our faces as the first gift was unwrapped!

Oh, one final comment. In addition to Kooser's poetry, the book is filled with wonderful line drawings by Robert Hanna. Check them out, if you get a chance.


  1. Very sweet! That would've been funny if you'd both given each other the same book. Has it ever happened?

  2. The Bluet poem is lovely! And, yes, what a sweet gift from your husband.

  3. Oh, I really enjoyed the Kooser poem about the old man, but Rod's poime is better!

    From the link to the Robert Hanna book, I think I'd really enjoy his work. It reminds me very much of the watercolors by Andrew Wyeth.

  4. Nat - I don't think it's ever happened. At least not with a book. Years ago, we might have bought each other the same cd for Christmas, but I couldn't tell you which one it was.

    Iliana - I thought so. He's a keeper. ;)

    Janet - I'd have to agree (about Rod's poime). :)

    Yes, Hanna's work is a bit similar to Wyeth's (whom I love!!).

    Hope all is well with you down there in TX.

  5. I'd rather have the Churchill, too. :<) I wanted to like Kooser, but I don't. In fact, he was nearby this winter and I didn't even go. I was going to, because I thought I 'should', and Tom asked, how come if I don't even like him, and I realized, yeah, that's right. I liked that one poem our friend, Mary, shared with us about the abandoned farm, but that's really it. I know that for me, there are poets I love and others I don't, just like fiction or non-fiction writers. Then there are some I can appreciate, but don't want to read.

  6. Nan - I think that's how I feel. I want to like Kooser. And I feel like I should read his books. Would I feel this way if he weren't a Poet Laureate or a local Nebraskan? Probably not.


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