Ted Kooser: American life in poetry

Ted Kooser: American life in poetry

One of the first things an aspiring writer must learn is to pay attention, to look intently at what is going on.

Here's a good example of a poem by Gabriel Spera, a Californian, that wouldn't have been possible without close observation.


The jay's up early, and attacks the lawn

with something of that fervor and despair

of one whose keys are not where they always are,

checking the same spots over and again

till something new or overlooked appears—

an armored pillbug, or a husk of grain.

He flits with it home, where his mate beds down,

her stern tail feathers jutting from the nest

like a spoon handle from a breakfast bowl.

The quickest lover's peck, and he's paroled

again to stalk the sodgrass, cockheaded, obsessed.

He must get something from his selfless work—

joy, or reprieve, or a satisfying sense

of obligation dutifully dispensed.

Unless, of course, he's just a bird, with beaks—

too many beaks—to fill, in no way possessed

of traits or demons humans might devise,

his dark not filled with could-have-beens and whys.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2012 by Gabriel Spera from his most recent book of poems, "The Rigid Body" (Ashland Poetry Press, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Spera and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to '06. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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