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'Flying at Night': In the Heart of the Heart of the Country
[US]:
TED KOOSER'S ''Flying at Night'' seems oddly, if not misleadingly, titled; the merits of these poems derive mostly from staying close to earth. A retired vice president of an insurance company in Lincoln, Neb., Kooser sets poem after poem out among the open-ended, wind-ransacked Great Plains. This terrain is notoriously inhospitable to any plant that would root deep or grow tall, but his tree is planted there -- his family tree -- and ''Flying at Night'' offers a densely peopled, multigenerational series of portraits and anecdotes drawn from a sparsely populated region.

In addition to being a retired businessman, Kooser is, as of last October, the poet laureate of the United States and the winner, this year, of a Pulitzer Prize. [...]

But he speaks as well, particularly in his new role as laureate, for another family -- that vast legion of poets, outspread across the country, who patiently compile one manuscript after another while pursuing a day job elsewhere. There's something heartening about those poets, like Kooser, like Wallace Stevens (who also spent his working life in the insurance business), like the doctor William Carlos Williams, whose lives reflect some vital integration of the ''real world'' and the realer world of art. If at the end of the day Kooser's poetic aesthetic is not mine (I prefer a thicker mix of language, a more complicated architecture), his poems are a tonic reminder that, in contemporary America, nearly all of our poets live in a Great Plains -- a region of thin crowds and long echoes. And that the only way for them to proceed is to write from the heart's home, as Kooser has done.
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