The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser

By Mary K. Stillwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Not Coming to Be Barked At

Our lives are brief as dimes.
—From “In the Laundromat”

Kooser dedicated his third full-length collection, Not Coming to Be Barked At, to William Cole, the Saturday Review critic who had introduced Local Habitation to the national reading public two years earlier. Its title, taken from TheKalevala, a Finnish epic compiled in the nineteenth century, underscores, by analogy, Kooser’s intent that his work be taken seriously by the literary establishment, as well as more general readers. As his short prefatory note explains, “The young hero, Lemminkäinen, pays a visit to the hostile people of North Farm. When he enters their great hall, they are astounded that their dogs do not bark at him. The gap-toothed mistress of North Farm asks Lemminkäinen how he has accomplished this feat, and he answers that he did not come there to be barked at.”

Indeed, no one is barking here; the collection consists of intense, often understated poems that reflect the poet as he grapples with the ache of absence, the search for love, the persistent rush of time, and the certainty of death. While acknowledging life’s pain and sorrow, Kooser records the small joys and large mysteries that it also

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