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At Home with Poet Laureate Ted Kooser

by Melissa Block
Oct 19, 2005 (All Things Considered)

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thumbnail Kooser sits in his chair with a notebook in his lap. Kooser's 'outdoor library'

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When Ted Kooser sits down to write a poem early each morning, he knows that the chances are low that he'll find true inspiration.

"I've got an armchair down in the living room where I prop a cup of coffee on one arm and set my notebook on my lap," he says. "And I just sit there under the floor lamp early in the morning and work and see what happens. Nine days out of 10, nothing good comes of it at all. Maybe on the tenth day, if I'm lucky, some little thing will start a poem."

Some of those poems, written in Kooser's home in rural Nebraska, turn out pretty well. Kooser is in his second year as the nation's poet laureate, and won the Pulitzer Prize this spring.

"I feel that I'm really fortunate if at the end of a year, after writing every day, I have a dozen poems I care about," he says. "That's plenty. I don't have great expectations for what happens in those morning sessions. But, you know, if you're not there writing, it's never going to happen."

Kooser grew up in Ames, Iowa, and moved to Lincoln, Neb., for graduate school in poetry.

He worked for life insurance companies for 35 years as an underwriter, and an executive. He'd write poems before dawn, before he left for the office.

Six years ago he retired. But at age 66, there's still no time to fill his day with writing.

The business of being poet laureate has him traveling the country to conduct workshops and readings to broaden public interest in the art of poetry. He's started a free weekly column for newspapers that introduces works written by contemporary American poets.

Over the course of this next year, NPR will have more conversations with Kooser about the craft and the pleasures of poetry.

Read some excerpts of Ted Kooser's poetry... and prose:


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Hear the Poet

"Barn Owl" is from Weather Central, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994, and used here by permission of the author. The other poems above are Copyright 2005 by Ted Kooser and used here by permission of the author.

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