Lights on a Ground of Darkness, by Ted Kooser

Feb 2, 2010

Lights on a Ground of Darkness: An Evocation of a Place and Time originally was published in 2005 by the University of Nebraska Press. That handsome little hardcover, though, was a limited edition; one thousand copies were printed, each of them numbered and signed by the author. Last September, under its Bison Books imprint, the press re-released the book in a mass-market paperback edition -- and Publishers Weekly promptly named it one of the top 20 books published last fall by independent and university presses. The praise is deserved. Kooser is best-known for his poetry; he's a Pulitzer Prize winner and a former poet laureate of the United States. Lights is something different: A short, powerful paean to small-town virtues, specifically those of his mother's Iowa family. Critics across the country have raved about the book. David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times opined that it was "written in a prose as spare as a winter sunset." Ray Olson of Booklist offered this take: "Kooser gratefully squeezes every drop from his memories of these long-departed people and what they told him of even longer-departed forebears." Essentially, Lights on a Ground of Darkness is about the difficulty (and necessity) of accepting the passage of time and the transient nature of human life. Yet it does not despair; hope endures even after those who taught us to hope have passed on.

Reviewed by Library Staff