Cup of Tea and a Blog

Welcome to my spot for musing about all things tea. Here you'll read reviews of quality teas, click through comments on tea rooms and shops I've visited, and see photos of leaves and cups. You’ll also find things I might talk about over a cup of tea, like philosophy, literature, current events, or fun ways to pass the time.

Location: Pacific Northwest, United States

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30 June 2005

Poetry With My Tea

My apologies for not posting here in a while. Blame it on lazy summer days, when 2 weeks seem to go by in a blink of the eye. I also have to say that my taste buds have just been “off.” Nothing has been tasting right lately, tea included. That means I won’t be posting any detailed tea notes for a bit. Instead, I turn your attention to some poetry. Don’t worry; there is a connection to tea at the end.

Delights & Shadows, a book of poetry by Ted Kooser, current Poet Laureate of the United States

Curious after it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, I went to my local library and checked out Delights & Shadows. Kooser’s poetry is deceptively sentimental, but as you read through this slim volume you find an unexpected depth to his work. Taken as a whole, the poems aren't as safe or naive as they first seem. In some ways, the book is a eulogy for the twentieth century's passing, and in other ways there's a sense of “innocence and experience” to it. Even in the wordplay of his title, Kooser is making some obvious overtures to Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Kooser is not as great a poet as William Blake, but the alignment and content of his poetry uses similar twists in perception to make sometimes-wry and often-wistful observations about life. Both poets also use puns and other wordplay to strengthen metaphors, and both manipulate poetic structure as they move between topics.

It has been a while since a poet’s words have spoken deeply to me, so I was surprised by my immediate and very personal response to the poems in Delights & Shadows. I laughed and cried, wondered if we shared the same relatives, got excited when I recognized a river’s name, and mostly just couldn’t believe how familiar it all seemed. The poems are set in the landscape of my childhood. No, that’s not quite right. Perhaps more accurately, they are set in the landscape of my parents’ childhood and are a part of my roots. They are the memories of my recent ancestors, the families who settled in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

The poems are staunchly Midwest America, shamelessly sentimental, delightfully playful, and actually good poetry. And yes, I do know good poetry – am still paying off my student loans for a master’s degree in literature. Head to a library, borrow the book from a friend, or buy a copy of your own. Even if you don’t usually like poetry, give this book a try, then let me know what you think of it.

Oh, I promised there would be something about tea, didn’t I? This is one of my favorite poems from the book. I hope you enjoy it, too!

The China Painters

They have set aside their black tin boxes
scratched and dented,
spattered with drops of pink and blue;
and their dried-up, rolled-up tubes
of alizarin crimson, chrome green,
zinc white, and ultramarine;
their vials half full of gold powder;
stubs of wax pencils;
frayed brushes with tooth-bitten shafts;
and have gone in fashion and with grace
into the clouds of loose, lush roses
narcissus, pansies, columbine,
on teapots, chocolate pots,
saucers and cups, the good Haviland dishes
spread like a garden
on the white lace Sunday cloth,
as if their souls were bees
and the world had been nothing but flowers.

Kooser, Ted. Delights & Shadows. Copper Canyon Press, 2004. p. 21.


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