Jerry Earl Johnston: 'Sacramental' poetry blesses America's soul

Published: Sunday, April 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

I miss poet William Stafford.

As one obituary put it, "He was not a star. He was better than that."

Stafford wrote about moments in life where something akin to grace takes hold. His poetry was spiritual — even religious — but he steered clear of King James English. I suspect he felt it was already too weighed down with people's interpretations and biases. Instead, he preferred to write about "light" — light that beamed brightly at times, grew dim at others. I suspect it was the old Quaker in him.

When Stafford died, the world lost a Kansas poet of profound simplicity and spirit.

Thankfully we still have Ted Kooser, a Nebraska poet of profound simplicity and spirit.

It's probably unfair, but I think of them as two peanuts in the same shell.

Kooser was in Salt Lake City last week to address the Utah State Poetry Society and give a reading. He brought his thoroughbred credentials along: Pulitzer Prize, a stint as America's Poet Laureate. But, as with Stafford, such things are always secondary for him.

What matters is the writing.

Does it connect with people?

Is it clear and precise?

Does it have something to say?

At his reading, held at the Airport Hilton, it did, it was and it did.

The Library Journal says "everything is illuminated" in Kooser's poems.

The New York Times claims he has a gift for making "the ordinary sacramental."

I say his poetry is vital for America today.

It is an anchor in a tempest.

Here's a taste of Kooser's style, a few lines from his poem: "Praying Hands:"

There is at least one pair

in every thrift shop in America,

molded in plastic or plaster of paris. . .

Today I saw a pair made out of

lightweight wire. . .

This is the way faith goes

from door to door,

cast out of one

and welcomed at another.

A butterfly presses its wings like that

as it rests between flowers.

If you missed Ted Kooser's reading, you missed a memorable evening.

The nice thing about poetry, however, is — like music — it can be reproduced.

Google Kooser's name and check out some of his poems.

And keep an eye out. I have a feeling he'll be coming back to Utah, maybe several times.

William Stafford did.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com

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