What if I told you that the poet who wrote tonight’s poem was formerly Vice President of a midwestern insurance company? That he wrote for an hour and a half every morning before going to work, and that he was also Poet Laureate of the United States from 2004 to 2006? Would you believe that was the same person? Well his name is Ted Kooser and I had the great fortune of introducing him at a large reading at Ohio Wesleyan in early 2007.

I delivered a short introduction highlighting my analysis of why I think his work is so profound. After I was seated and the man himself was at the podium, he graciously complemented my feedback, commenting that even he had not noticed some of the trends and themes I had picked out in his work. It was a humbling experience to say the least, and I will never forget that evening. The poem I chose to single out that night is the same I will mention today: “Walking on Tiptoe”.

Why don’t we just listen to me from all those years ago on why Kooser’s work is so profound. “[His work contains] plain simple language that carries with it tremendous meaning and understanding of the world. An 8 year old could pick up one of his books and revel in its imagery, equally so for someone who has been studying poetry for years.” The beauty of his work is that it is written as “We”, not “I”. His words are universal, deep, and represent us all. I’d bet good money that you identify with the sentiment at the end.


Walking on Tiptoe

Long ago we quit lifting our heels
like the others—horse, dog, and tiger—
though we thrill to their speed
as they flee. Even the mouse
bearing the great weight of a nugget
of dog food is enviably graceful.
There is little spring to our walk,
we are so burdened with responsibility,
all of the disciplinary actions
that have fallen to us, the punishments,
the killings, and all with our feet
bound stiff in the skins of the conquered.
But sometimes, in the early hours,
we can feel what it must have been like
to be one of them, up on our toes,
stealing past doors where others are sleeping,
and suddenly able to see in the dark.


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