Fellow Poets! Last week I published a post about Juan Felipe Herrera, the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Mr. Herrera is currently in his second term as Poet Laureate. I wanted to write about him because I read an interview The Washington Post published in March 2017 just prior to National Poetry Month.
This week, I am inspired to write about Ted Kooser and American Life in Poetry. Mr. Kooser served two terms as the prestigious U.S. Poet Laureate when he was appointed the 13th Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. It was Kooser’s own National Poetry Project, American Life in Poetry, which first drew my attention to him. According to the website,
“American Life in Poetry is a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Ted Kooser.”
Like any great project, Kooser presented a mission and a vision for ALP which is simply to promote poetry. I subscribed to ALP in May 2013 when they were in their ninth year and they are still going strong. On Monday, May 15th, they published their 634th column!
Some background on Ted Kooser. He’s got his own poet website: The Official Website of Poet: Ted Kooser. Here you can read his personal biography detailing his collected works, listen to him reading and talking about his poems, read some press reviews, and more. Mr. Kooser currently features only six poems on his site and lists the works they are published in as well as linking them to where you can purchase those works. Mr. Kooser also has an extensive couple of pages on The Poetry Foundation’s website. The Foundation’s biography is even more extensive than on Kooser’s site. Additionally, the Foundation has 26 of Kooser’s poems, 1 article, and 17 Audio & Podcast files. The Academy of American Poets has a sizable biography page for Kooser as well as four poems. Fortunately, they are four different poems than on the Poetry Foundation. Since he served as a U.S. Poet Laureate, you can also find loads of information on the Library of Congress’ pages. There is a brief summary of Kooser’s tenure as Poet Laureate, a page listing all Poet Laureate Projects including Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, and several articles and blog posts about Kooser and his work.
On The Poetry Foundation’s biography, they quote critic Dana Gioia who described Kooser as a “popular poet”—not one who sells millions of books, but
“popular in that unlike most of his peers he writes naturally for a nonliterary public. His style is accomplished but extremely simple—his diction drawn from common speech, his syntax conversational.”
Poetically, Kooser reminds me of Philip Levine and Billy Collins. Incidentally, they both served as Poets Laureate, Levine from 2011-2012 and Collins from 2001-2003. Perhaps I will write more about them later.
One of the things I like best about Mr. Kooser is that he is approachable and helpful as a poet. On August 8, 2016 I wrote to Mr. Kooser for advice on breaking into the poetry world. I have my own ideas and I have written about them on this blog. Mr. Kooser graciously replied that same morning. He suggested to focus on the task at hand, focus on the poem you are writing at the moment. Submit to quality literary journals and continue to submit. Get noticed and keep moving forward, keep progressing. I like writing to poets I admire and sending them compliments on my favorite poems of theirs. It is always a pleasant surprise when they write back!
If you care to check them out, three of my favorite Kooser poems are “Abandoned Farmhouse,” “Look for Me,” and “So This is Nebraska.” You can find all three on The Poetry Foundation’s website.