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Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader"

Updated on October 28, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Ted Kooser

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Selecting a Reader"

Ted Kooser's title, "Selecting a Reader," can be interpreted at least two ways: one refers to a reader selecting something to read, and the other is the poet selecting the type of person he would like to have select his books.

It is the latter that prevails, even though the first makes a cameo. The poem resembles a versanelle; its short thirteen lines offer the pungent imagery that unveils a short narrative and ends with a punch. The lines are unrimed yet steamy.

(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Recitation of Kooser's "Selecting a Reader"

Commentary

First Movement: "First, I would have her be beautiful"

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing

The speaker claims that the first image he has of his reader is that she is beautiful, but even before that thought he has decided that the reader is a "she, "instead of a "he." He then has his potential reader ambling gingerly "up to my poetry."

For some drama, he adds that it is the "loneliest moment of an afternoon." This descriptor adds just the right flavor. If the woman's mood appeared jolly, the mood of the speaker's fantasy would take a different direction.

Second Movement: "a raincoat, an old one, dirty"

a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there

The speaker then offers the image of wet hair on the woman, adding the saucy flavor heralded by the fact that "her hair [is] still damp at the neck / from washing it." This image directs the reader's attention to a fairly intimate detail of the woman's anatomy without becoming boorish.

The speaker then reveals that the woman is wearing a raincoat—"an old one, dirty / from not having money enough for the cleaners." He piques the reader's interest by piling detail on detail about the woman. Each detail allows the reader to learn more about her as the speaker continues his fantasy.

The woman becomes much more visible, so that by the time she is taking out her classes to check out the book, she is a developed character.

Third Movement: "in the bookstore, she will thumb"

in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,

After taking out her glasses, "there / in the bookstore," she samples a few poems, but then chooses not to buy the book. She simply returns the book to the shelf.

The speaker does not allow himself the audacity of having her actually buy the book. And if she did buy the book, his little drama could not end with the punch he has in store.

Fourth Movement: "'For that kind of money, I can get / my raincoat cleaned'"

"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

After sampling the poems, the potential reader makes a decision. She realizes that she has a better use for money that she would have fork over for this book of poems. She remarks "to herself," "For that kind of money, I can get / my raincoat cleaned."

The speaker, it seems, would find that decision less than acceptable, but he proves to be exceedingly understanding. He simply responds, "And she will." He approves of her decision, even though it costs him the price of a book sale.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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