The Blizzard Voicesby Ted Kooser, Tom Pohrt
This book is a collection of poems recording the devastation unleashed on the Great Plains by the blizzard of January 12, 1888. The Blizzard Voices is based on the actual reminiscences of the survivors as recorded in documents from the time and written reminiscences from years later. Here are the haunting voices of the men and women who were teaching school/i>
This book is a collection of poems recording the devastation unleashed on the Great Plains by the blizzard of January 12, 1888. The Blizzard Voices is based on the actual reminiscences of the survivors as recorded in documents from the time and written reminiscences from years later. Here are the haunting voices of the men and women who were teaching school, working the land, and tending the house when the storm arrived and changed their lives forever.
- University of Nebraska Press
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Read an Excerpt
The Blizzard Voices
By Ted Kooser
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
The poems that follow are isolated voices heard in that
blinding snowstorm we know as the passage of time.
When the Alberta Clipper, roaring out of the north,
rips apart a straw stack, only the frozen center remains,
and each of these memories is like that center, stripped
of digression, picked clean of equivocation. What is left
are the core narratives, spare and cold. Each clings to a
concrete and specific detail, for memory works like that.
Recall gets snagged on some sharp thing, like a cornshuck
on a barbed wire fence. Someone remembers the pets
spinning around and around as the barometer dropped.
Another remembers the row of sunflower stalks that she
and her schoolmates followed to safety.
I snagged these poems from actual reminiscences,
recorded in old age, of people who survived the most
talked about storm in American history, the Blizzard of
1888, also known as the Schoolchildren's Blizzard because
of the many children and their teachers who were trapped
in rural schools on the bitterly cold days of January 12
and 13 of that year. In the Nebraska State Capitol, near
the ceiling of the Great Hall, is an abstract mosaic, mostly
blue and white like a snowstorm, dedicated to one of those
teachers, Minnie Mae Freeman, who led herstudents to
safety, trailing hand in hand through the blinding snow.
Minnie's voice as I imagined it appears in this book.
My sources are many. When I was a boy there were
people in my family, then in their seventies and eighties
and nineties, who remembered the Great Blizzard and
would from time to time talk about their experiences. I
was bound by their spell as only a child can be. All my life
I have been talking with people about their experiences
of the great storm. Preparing to write these poems, I read
town and county histories that mention the blizzard. W.
H. O'Gara's book In All its Fury, published in 1947 by
Union College Press, is a superb collection of memories
of the storm, and I used it extensively as a resource, as
have other writers. But these poems are wholly mine,
trimmed and shaped and imagined by me. I took the
straws snagged on the fence and froze my own stories
This book was performed as a play by the Lincoln,
Nebraska, Community Playhouse in the late 1980s, and
what struck me most was not the pleasure of seeing my
work come to life but what occurred in the theater lobby
afterward. Somehow my poems and a handful of talented
actors had set memory free, and as I walked through
the crowd with my cup of punch I overheard things
like, "Well, my grandmother told me ..." and "Great
Uncle Harry once said that ..." It was one of the most
marvelous evenings of my life, for what I'd written was
being put to service, and a community was awakening to
a history they'd misplaced until those costumed figures in
lantern light showed how to find it again. Out came the
memories, all whispers and awe, and those recollections
blew around in a swirl in that lobby until they once again
caught up on the barbs of time. Once again our ancestors
groped through the darkness for that row of sunflower
stalks that might lead them into the next day and the next.
And there we followed. I have rarely been more deeply
Excerpted from The Blizzard Voices
by Ted Kooser
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Ted Kooser, Presidential Professor of the University of Nebraska, is former U.S. poet laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. In addition to his many volumes of poetry, he is the coauthor (with Steve Cox) of Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing (Nebraska 2006) and the author of The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (Nebraska 2005) and Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, available in a Bison Books edition.
Tom Pohrt is an illustrator who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- Garland, Nebraska
- Date of Birth:
- Place of Birth:
- Ames, Iowa
- B.S., Iowa State University, 1962; M.A., University of Nebraska, 1968
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¿¿He wandered/ahead of the wind and was found/that spring when it thawed, twelve miles/southeast of his home¿¿ The Blizzard of 1888 that slammed into the Great Plains January 12-13 was one of the most devastating weather events in history. Former Poet Laureate and 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner Ted Kooser skillfully tells the story. From historic records and eye witness accounts, Kooser uses the voices of men and women to tell the chilling tale. The event was also called the Schoolchildren¿s Blizzard because of the many children and teachers who were trapped in rural schools during the bitterly cold days of the blizzard. Here are the haunting voices of the men and women who were teaching school, working the land and tending the house when the storm arrived and changed their lives forever. A woman¿s voice: ¿¿The wind/was so bad the men took turns/at the driving [mules] while others/laid in the wagon boxes./None of them died, but some lost/fingers and toes that day¿¿ These are the remembrances of a hearty people who faced a terrible winter storm that seemed to come from nowhere. The Blizzard Voices is good story telling presented in a unique way. Anyone who says they don¿t like poetry never read Ted Kooser (or Billy Collins). Kooser is a master of communicating through poetry. His clarity of structure and word choices makes poetry enjoyable and readable. Twelve line drawings by Tom Pohrt give graphic renditions of the people and conditions during the blizzard. The Blizzard Voices is a re issue from the University of Nebraska Press with a new introduction by Kooser.