Nigel writes: I don’t know if you’re the same but I have on my shelves a small collection of poetry books which I constantly revisit. Like old friends I can rely on them to lift the spirits when they’re low, distract me for a pleasant hour or two, and offer me words of wisdom and inspiration when I need them.
I guess my most visited “old friend” is Ted Kooser. His ‘A blind woman’ is typical of his work. He writes about ordinary people meeting the challenges of everyday living. In this case his subject is a woman who is blind.
His style is conversational: ‘She had turned her face up into/a rain of light, and came on smiling’. It is as if we are sitting in his garden, or indoors in front of a fire, and he is telling us something that he observed earlier that day. The tone is matter of fact and yet as the poem progresses Kooser’s sensitivity and humanity emerge. He does not patronise the woman in his description: he doesn’t indulge in mawkish pity. He sees beyond the blindness. The woman may be unsighted but she can still experience light. The metaphor of ‘rain’ cleverly conveys the way in which her sense of touch compensates in part for her inability to see: she does not see the light, she feels it. It ‘trickles down here forehead’; it ‘ran down/into the neck of her sweatshirt’; it ‘wet’ the tops of her breasts. The metaphor suggests that her sightlessness is no more an inconvenience to her than soaked clothes, and Kooser goes on to show that rather than deserve our pity, she deserves our admiration. She is vigorously alive: she is ‘exuberant, curious’ and above all, courageous. He describes her as ‘walking fast…pushing her cane/ through the bars, poking and prodding/ while the world cowered back in the corner’. She does not appear to be daunted by her disability or by what lies in front of her (in the circus wagon cage, with its associations of wild animals): she confronts life and does not shy away from it, unlike her sighted peers, particularly when confronted by people with disabilities.
You know, there’s something uplifting about being in the presence of such a decent human being as Ted Kooser, whose poetry is guaranteed to make us see the world around us with unjaundiced eyes. I think we all need a writer like him in our lives, don’t we?