Shining a Light on Ted Kooser, American Life in Poetry, and Two Women Poets from Wyoming

I’ve been spending the day with two poems—both written by western women (both over 40, by the way), both published, both about a man and a woman—but both paint very different portraits of the relationship between a husband and wife. The first poem, “Denial” by Pat Frolander, just appeared on TED KOOSER'S COLUMN American Life in Poetry and is included in Pat's chapbook Grassland Genealogy (Finishing Line Press, Kentucky, 2009).  These poems are, to quote past Wyoming poet laureate Robert Roripaugh, filled with the "subtle strands of heart and mind that tie humans and animals to each other and the grasslands they share." Please click HERE to read Pat's poem.  Ted Kooser, a Pulitzer prize-winning poet and one of our nation’s esteemed poet laureates, is from the Great Plains, the heartland of America. He is widely praised for his "plainspoken style, his gift for metaphor, and his quiet discoveries of beauty in ordinary things.”  To listen to an NPR interview with Ted, click HERE.

Ted's book The Poetry Home Repair Manual (University of Nebraska Press) is one of my favorites, especially the section "At a window on the world" (pg. 31), where he talks about the presence of the poet in a poem.  It applies to memoir writing as well.  "While choosing your words it is as if you were at a window looking out into the world," writes Kooser. 

"The poem is the record of a moment at that window, but for once the author – not time nor weather – gets to control the amount of light outside. For once, you are in charge of the sun. If you want to write a poem about yourself, you turn down the light on the world and thus brighten your reflection in the glass. If you don’t want to appear very prominently in your poem, you brighten the light on the world until your reflection all but disappears. But there is always this double image, made up of the poet’s reflection in the glass – perhaps vivid, perhaps faint, perhaps somewhere in between...."  This silhouette photo, which illustrates Ted's "window on the world" so well, is by photographer, producer and friend Kathleen Jo Ryan (copyright 1989). The photo appears in her book Ranching Traditions and was taken at dawn at the Sombrero Ranch in Colorado.  Kathleen deserves an entire article just on her, so check back in.  Meantime, click HERE to learn about her fascinating documentary project, Right to Risk.  In Pat Frolander's poem "Denial" the light shines most brightly, though sadly, on the ranch wife. And Pat's presence, as the narrator, is barely felt at all (see the 2nd to last line).

The second poem that has captured my attention today I first read in Teresa Jordan's anthology Graining the Mare.  In "Timothy Draw" by SUE WALLIS, the light shines brightly and intimately on the narrator of the poem.  Sue was gracious enough to let me share it here.  The photo, (copyright Kathleen Jo Ryan 1989) is of ranch woman and cow boss, Kim Smith, of the Cottonwood Ranch in Nevada, and also appears in Ranching Traditions.  I just had the pleasure of spending a few days with Kim at the ranch.  She shines a bright light on the world too.  Here's Sue's poem, "Timothy Draw."

We pause at the top of Timothy Draw
Look down the country for stray cows
He cocks his head
Stands in the stirrups
Hands on the horn
Relaxed and easy and graceful
He moves with a horse
Like few men can

In one brief, quick space
I love him more
Than I will ever love again

Like passion, but not of sex
Like Life without death
Like the nudge and the tug and the sleepy smile
Of a too-full child at your still-full breast
Something that explodes from your toes
But flows through your bones
Like warm honey

More powerful than violence
          I lift my reins
          Our horses sidestep
          ... and we slip on down the draw

Two men.  Two women.  Both husbands and wives.  Both living their lives on land they love.  Yet such differerent experiences.  Both poets capture the human experience.  One, by standing at a distance.  The other, by entering the intimate terrain of the poem.  Both have much to teach us about life.

Sue and her husband raise grassfed beef on their Wyoming ranch.  Click HERE to find out more.


Kathleen Ernst said…
Lovely poems! And Ted Kooser is a delight--love his work, love what he's done to get poetry in front of readers. Thanks so much for sharing.
Page Lambert said…
Kathleen, you are so right - we owe Ted a great deal of gratitude for making poetry about real lives and real connections to the natural world accessible to all. Yea, Kooser!! And thank you for your comment.
Beth Partin said…
I love the juxtaposition of the two poems! I confess I like the distant narration of the first poem about the ranch wife, possibly because of the O. Henry moment at the end, but the other does give unexpected insight.
Page Lambert said…
The two poems do present two distinctively different styles - and yes, I like the O.Henry moment at the end of "Denial." But I must say, the sensuality of "Timothy Draw" sucks me in every time.
Heloise Jones said…
"Loved Timothy Draw. Exquisite descriptors, precious awareness of the moment. It tugs at me...I've been there. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
Page, the poems are real gems and I can feel the energy coursing through the lines. Thanks so much for your beautiful voice, thoughts, and energy.
Page Lambert said…
Yes, much energy in these lines - much insight in these women poets. Love to you!
Barbara said…
Page, I enjoyed reading your post. I appreciate and enjoy how you flesh out the sensory details of whatever topic you're writing about--you really get to the heart of it. And speaking of poetry, I wrote a blog this morning that ties in with some of what you shared about our mutual friend Pat Frolander.

Here's my 'hats off' to Pat and the fun that comes in connecting other writers:

cat said…
Both these poems express the same thing really. Else why would the wife of the first poem kept up the canning and haying if not for at least at one time having the same passion for the land and the man the woman in the second poem (the more fortunate of the two as I see it) expresses?

beautiful, both of them The first one a more common experience for women than society likes to admit. I shall keep both of them poems in my files, Page. And thanks for them.
Page Lambert said…
Cat, for me, one poem expresses the loneliness of two lives lived separately, while the other poem expresses the richness of partnership. And yes, the loneliness, for both men and women (surely the man in "Denial" is lonely) is far too common for a species with a gregarious nature where herding up is instinctual. Yet isolation, emotionally or physically, creates its own hard shell.

Thanks for your thoughts, Cat - and for keeping the poems tucked safely in your files.
Anna Snap said…
Great poem choices, Page! I especially liked the Timothy Draw poem too. From the descriptions you can almost feel and see what the woman in the poem is experiencing. I love when writing can evoke emotions or bring to mind similar memories for the reader.

Dan Kennedy said…
I had a delayed reaction to the first poem. Hours after I read it, I wondered if the man was totally clueless as to who his wife was and the part she played in his life and their business.

All we know about her was that she was a hard worker, not why she was or what she was like when she wasn't "keeping the books" and the chores were done. Was he clueless, or were they a couple who was all business--all the time--and liked it that way? The poem is called "Denial."

Perhaps each of them was denying, what? Their marriage? What might each of them have been denying each other for a very long time?

As a man i found the second poem easy to like--the guy got to be himself and the woman was swooning over him for it. Although, near the end she writes: "More powerful than violence, I lift my reins . . . "

That idea of violence seems to come out of nowhere and I wonder why in considering him the idea of it need enter at all.

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