Ted Kooser, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and former U.S. poet laureate, is Presidential Professor of the University of Nebraska. Currently, he is hand-selecting books for his eponymous Contemporary Poetry series, which features poets he believes deserves greater recognition for their work. Below he writes about the newest author in the series, Gerald Costanzo, author of Regular Haunts: New and Previous Poems (March 2018).
I’ve known Jerry Costanzo for many years, and while my foreword to his new collection of poems addresses his consummate skill as a poet, I want to say a few words about Jerry the person, my dear friend.
While his poems display his intelligence and wit, in person Jerry’s every bit as quick to delight a listener. We’ve had many lengthy phone conversations over the years and I’ve always felt more happy and alive at the close of them. I have one memory that captures his wonderful, subtle, understated sense of humor.
He and I were in an art gallery somewhere, long ago, looking at paintings, surrounded by other art patrons, one man quite loudly making observations about the various works as if to convince the woman with him as well as the rest of us of his intelligence and authority. One picture was a small, quite dark landscape from the 17th or 18th century. Jerry, with a fingertip pressed to his lips in an attitude of mock concentration, said, as if he were Kenneth Clark or Robert Hughes, “A little too much Van Dyke Brown….”
I hope you find that as funny as I did. I’ve never forgotten it.
Jerry and I had a mutual friend, the late Warren Fine, a talented novelist who taught at the University of Nebraska in the late ‘70s. Jerry had known him when they were students at Johns Hopkins, and of course I knew him as a colleague. Warren would have loved Jerry’s new collection. And would have loved it that I had the good luck to secure it for Nebraska.