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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Usher's 'Confesions' / Why September for U.S. Labor Day? / New Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser - 2004-09-03

Broadcast: September 3, 2004

BOB DOUGHTY: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

This is Bob Doughty. On our show this week: Music from Usher, and a question from a listener about Labor Day in the United States. But first, a report about a writer who has at least a year of work ahead of him as America's new poet laureate.

New Poet Laureate

Each year, the Library of Congress chooses a national poet -- the poet laureate of the United States. Ted Kooser will become the country’s thirteenth poet laureate in October. He will replace Louise Gluck who served one term. Faith Lapidus tells us about the new poet laureate.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Librarian of Congress James Billington calls Ted Kooser a major poetic voice for small town America.

Mister Kooser is the first poet laureate from the Great Plains, in the middle of the country. Farmers of European ancestry were growing crops on this huge area of grasslands by the late eighteen hundreds.

Ted Kooser was born in Iowa in nineteen thirty-nine. Today, the sixty-five-year-old poet is retired from the insurance business. He lives on a farm in Nebraska. He is a visiting English professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

As the new poet laureate, Mister Kooser will give a speech and read from his poetry in October. He will also help decide which poets read their works at the Library of Congress in the coming year. And he will help organize other poetry events.

Ted Kooser says he has spent his life trying to write the kind of poetry that people can easily understand. He says he has some ideas about how to increase public interest in poetry, but he is keeping them to himself for now.

Ted Kooser has written ten books of poetry. His most recent collection was published this year. It is called “Delights and Shadows.” Here is a poem from that book. Gwen Outen reads “At the Cancer Clinic.”

GWEN OUTEN: She is being helped toward the open door

that leads to the examining rooms

by two young women I take to be her sisters.

Each bends to the weight of an arm

and steps with the straight, tough bearing

of courage. At what must seem to be

a great distance, a nurse holds the door,

smiling and calling encouragement.

How patient she is in the crisp white sails

of her clothes. The sick woman

peers from under her funny knit cap

to watch each foot swing scuffing forward

And take its turn under her weight.

There is no restlessness or impatience

or anger anywhere in sight. Grace

fills the clean mold of this moment

and all the shuffling magazines grow still.

Labor Day

BOB DOUGHTY: Our VOA listener question this week comes from the Kano State, Nigeria. Ibrahim Umar Abdulkarim asks why the United States observes Labor Day in September and not in May.

Since ancient times, May first has been a traditional day to celebrate spring. In modern times, May Day also became a traditional day for countries to honor workers.

In eighteen eighty-nine, Socialists held an international congress in Paris. They chose May first as a workers holiday and a day for demonstrations. Since then, the first of May has been observed as International Labor Day.

The United States, however, had already settled on another day. Peter McGuire was a New York labor leader. He is said to have suggested the first Monday in September as a holiday to honor labor. He said it was a nice time of the year for a celebration. He suggested parades to show the strength of labor organizations. And he urged people to end the day with outdoor parties.

The first Labor Day celebration in the United States took place in New York City on September fifth, eighteen eighty-two. About ten thousand workers marched through the streets. Then everyone went to a park to eat a meal and hear speeches and music. The idea quickly spread throughout the country. In eighteen ninety-four, Congress approved a bill to declare Labor Day a national holiday.

For years, the first Monday in September was a day when American workers demonstrated for better conditions and pay. Today, the Labor Day weekend is mostly observed as a time to enjoy the last warm days of summer.

Listen Sunday at this time for PEOPLE IN AMERICA, and learn about five important labor leaders in the nation's history.


He began singing in church at age six. He was discovered by a record company at seventeen. This singer is twenty-five now, and popular enough that people know him by one name: Usher. And this week, Usher won two MTV awards, for best male video and best dance video, for his song "Yeah!" Shep O’Neal has more.

SHEP O'NEAL: His full name is Usher Raymond. His most recent album sold more than one million copies in its first week of release earlier this year. The album is called “Confessions.” The first big hit was "Yeah!"


“Confessions” is the fourth album by Usher. It has sold more than five million copies. It is the top selling album in the country so far this year.

Another hit single from the album describes the feelings at the end of a relationship. This song, partly written by Usher, is called “Burn.”


Usher is now performing around the country.We leave you with the third hit from "Confessions." This one is called “Confessions, Part 2.”


BOB DOUGHTY: This is Bob Doughty. Our program was written by Jill Moss and Nancy Steinbach. Paul Thompson was our producer. And our engineer was Jim Sleeman.

Send your questions about American life to Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, USA.

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I hope you enjoyed AMERICAN MOSAIC. Join us again next week for VOA’s radio magazine in Special English