Our concert opens with spoken-word artist Carol Greyeyes reading a work written by poet Ted Kooser.
Ted Kooser was the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. He is also Presidential Professor Emeritus at The University of Nebraska, where he taught the writing of poetry. For most of his career, he was a life insurance salesman and would spend about an hour and a half writing poetry before work. By the time he retired from his insurance career, he had published 7 books of poetry. Kooser received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book Delights & Shadows.
The work being read at our concert is called December 21, Clear and five degrees. It is from a collection of postcards written by Kooser to Jim Harrison. The entire collection is entitled Winter Morning Walks and there are 100 postcards in total. In the late 1990s, Kooser developed cancer and gave up both his insurance job and writing. When he began to write again, it was to send daily poems on postcards he sent in correspondence with his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison. In poems both playful and serious, Kooser avoids talking directly about his illness. Rather, he refers to disease and the possibility of dying in metaphors focusing on the countryside around his Nebraska home, where he took long walks for inspiration.
Kooser’s walks have also inspired others. Grammy award-winning composer, Maria Schneider, used Kooser’s poetry to create a song cycle called Winter Morning Walks. It was written for and performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Dawn Upshaw, Jay Anderson (bass), Frank Kimbrough (piano) & Scott Robinson (alto clarinet & bass clarinet).
You can hear a sample on this clip from PBS where the interview Dawn Upshaw and Maria Scneider about the creation of the beautiful song cycle.