"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

IWC 100 (NDN): Special Guest Star, Ted Kooser!

I've had a couple of really spectacular classes this week, not only in my Natural Disaster Narratives (NDN) classes, but yesterday in my Place and Community class (also IWC) was also really great.  This morning, our sunshine is back and I don't quite believe the Weather Channel when it says it is two degrees and there isn't any windchill.

This morning, we had a bit of shuffle with my NDN classes, because Ted Kooser (we read his book of poetry, Blizzard Voices, last week) had to reschedule our Skype, which was supposed to be Monday.  So we talked about interviewing on Monday and today we mashed the beginning of Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time with our phone conversation with Kooser.  We basically did it, but Friday's going to be a day full of Dust Bowl.  It's true, just like all these other disasters, I get too excitable about it.  I had to give my students the disclaimer that the Great Plains is a subject I get very excitable about, I have soapboxes and opinions, and this does not mean that mine is the only opinion, that I am trying to convince them of something, or that they cannot disagree with me--in fact, I would like to be disagreed with.  

Grasslands!  Bioregions!  History! Why should anybody care?

I can feel myself getting excited just typing.  It's a problem.  I did recommend Google for those terms and places they don't recognize, so we'll see how that goes.  Also, there's a certain level of inexpressible glee that only comes from teaching books that have that many Post-It notes in them, that many notes in the margins, the book that you guard with your life and never let anybody touch, because those notes are not replaceable.

But why should anybody care?

I look forward to pressing them on this question as we keep going.  History is only boring when you forget that it's about real people.

Then, about 9:00, we called Ted Kooser, who's just about the nicest person on the planet.  We started off with some questions about the blizzard itself, about the poems (why he chose to not name the voices, where Ron Hansen's short story gave them names), we asked about the poetry as preserving something that might otherwise be lostwe asked about his writing process--AND HE READ US A BRAND NEW POEM HE WROTE THIS MORNING.  Be still my little teacherly heart.  We talked on Monday, as we were going through some interviewing things, about getting the interviewee to say something new, and it doesn't get much better than that.  He talked about getting up at 4:30 to write, suiting up for the work, and I think it made an impression on my students that he considered it work.  He talked about writing every day, and he talked about failing most days, that only a couple of days out of the month does he end up with anything that's usable, but he needs to show up.  He talked about working in the insurance agency and the importance of being able to write--not creative writing--but just clear communication.  

After we hung up with him, and we were debriefing, my students seemed a little stunned that he read us a new poem, that he apologized for its rough form before he did (and I said, remember that first workshop we did when I told you no apologizing for your work (they nodded), and I said, it doesn't go away...).  They also seemed very taken with the idea of failure and that he allowed himself the failure.

This blog post is indeed today's love poem to Ted Kooser.  I love the guy.  What I didn't know is that a jazz musician named Maria Schneider put some of his poetry to music and she just won a bunch of Grammy's.  Poetry is alive.

And the world is beautiful.