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Ted Kooser: Former U. S. Poet Laureate

Updated on July 7, 2017

Ted Kooser

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Kooser Born in Iowa in 1939

The former U.S. poet laureate (2004-2006), Ted Kooser, was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939. In 1962 he completed a bachelor of science degree from Iowa State University and in 1968 a master of arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Kooser currently holds the position of Presidential Professor at The University of Nebraska, teaching the writing of poetry. He served many years until his retirement as a vice-president of Lincoln Benefit Life, an insurance company. He and his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, reside on a farm near Garland, Nebraska. They have a son and a granddaughter.

Appointed Poet Laureate

Ted Kooser was appointed poet laureate in 2004, and in April 2005 James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, reappointed him to that position for 2005. During the same week in April that Kooser received the reappointment as poet laureate, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems, Delights & Shadows.

Kooser is widely published in such influential journals as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Hudson Review. His work has appeared in textbooks used at the high school and college level, and he has been awarded two National Endowments of the Arts fellowships in poetry, the Stanley Kunitz Prize, the Pushcart Prize, the James Boatwright Prize, and a Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council.

The poet laureate has read widely across the country for the Academy of American Poetry. He has also read at many universities including the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell at Ithaca, Case Western Reserve at Cleveland, The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. And he has taught workshops at many of these universities.

Also an Essayist and Playwright

Not only is the former laureate a poet, but he is also an essayist, playwright, fiction writer, and literary critic. His nonfiction prose book Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps has won numerous awards.

The University of Nebraska Press brought out his latest book of prose The Poetry Home Repair Manual in January 2005, a book to help beginning poets get started with their craft.

Editor and Publisher

As editor and publisher at Windflower Press, Kooser has published contemporary poetry, including two literary magazines, The Salt Creek Reader (1967-1975) and The Blue Hotel (1980-1981). The former won several grants from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The Windflower publication, The Windflower Home Almanac of Poetry, was honored as the best book from a small press in 1980.

American Life in Poetry

Each poet laureate infuses his/her own agenda into the position, and Ted Kooser initiated a unique venue for achieving the goal of increasing readership for poetry. His American Life in Poetry offers a column free to newspapers each week.

The site allows readers to register to receive weekly email messages with links to each current American Life in Poetry Column.

Kooser's Poetry

Kooser has published ten collections of poetry. Critics have characterized his style as "haiku-like imagist." His work is often compared to Kentuckian Wendell Berry, but Kooser’s work is seen as less intense than Berry, less religious, and probably less universal.

Kooser’s poetry is called “accessible” which means it is easy to understand. To many modern, or post-modern, American minds, such a distinction is the kiss of death. The lovers of obscure verse will find plenty in Kooser to deride, but the whole point of the position of poet laureate is to help make poetry more accessible in order to attract a wider audience for the art.

Kooser's work is pleasing with just enough wit to bring a smile and just enough nature description to bring a moment of recognition from time to time. Whether reading his work or listening to him read it, the audience cannot but be aware that this is a man in love with life and poetry.

Sample poem by Ted Kooser: "Gabardine"

To sit in sunlight with other old men,
none with his legs crossed, our feet in loose shoes
hot and flat on the earth, hands curled in our laps
or on our knees, like birds that now and then
fly up with our words and settle again
in a slightly different way, casting a slightly
different shadow over our pants legs, gabardine,
blue, gray, or brown, warmed by the passing sun.

An Evening with Ted Kooser

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