Newpoetry column debuts

Published on Thu, Nov 17, 2005
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New poetry column debuts

The Poetry Foundation has formed a partnership with the Library of Congress to support the American Life in Poetry project, an initiative of Ted Kooser, the Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
American Life in Poetry is a new column in The Northern Light featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Ted Kooser. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry in modern American life.
“Newspapers are close to my heart and my family,” said Kooser, whose wife and son both work in journalism. “As Poet Laureate I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a chuckle or an insight.” Poetry was long a popular staple in the daily press. According to Kooser, “Readers enjoyed it. They would clip verses, stick them in their diaries, enclose them in letters. They even took time to memorize some of the poems they discovered.”
In recent years poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint.Yet the attraction to it is still strong. Kooser observed that “Poetry has remained a perennial expression of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives, as witnessed by the tens of thousands of poems written about the tragedy of September 11 that circulated on the internet. Now I’m hoping to convince editors that there could be a small place in their papers for poetry, that it could add a spot of value in the eyes of readers.”
John Barr, president of the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, noted that the foundation is committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. “It is an honor,” he said, “to be allied with the Library of Congress. Through the office of Poet Laureate, the library has done much to celebrate the best poetry and enlarge its audience. We are natural partners in the American Life in Poetry project, which will help get good poetry back into the mainstream.”
American Life in Poetry is funded and supported by The Poetry Foundation, the publisher of Poetry magazine. Administrative support has been provided by the English Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the offices of the American Life in Poetry project are located.

American Life in Poetry

Road Report
Driving west through sandstone’s
red arenas, a rodeo of slow erosion
cleaves these plains, these ravaged cliffs.
This is cowboy country. Desolate. Dull. Except
on weekends, when cactus bloom like cactus
after drought. My rented Mustang bucks
the wind – I’m strapped up, wide-eyed,
busting speed with both heels, a sure grip
on the wheel. Black clouds maneuver
in the distance, but I don’t care. Mileage
is my obsession. I’m always racing off,
passing through, as though the present
were a dying town I’d rather flee.
What matters is the future, its glittering
Hotel. Clouds loom closer, big as Brahmas
in the heavy air. The radio crackles
like a shattered rib. I’m in the chute.
I check the gas and set my jaw. I’m almost there.
Kurt Brown

Descriptions of landscape are common in poetry, but in “Road Report” Kurt Brown adds a twist by writing himself into “cowboy country.” He also energizes the poem by using words we associate with the American West: Mustang, cactus, Brahmas. Even his associations – such as comparing the crackling radio to a shattered rib – evoke a sense of place.
By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

Reprinted from “New York Quarterly,” No. 59, by permission of the author, whose new book, “Future Ship,” is due out this summer from Story Line Press. Poem copyright (c) 2003 by Kurt Brown. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.