By DONNA URSCHEL
Ted Kooser, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, has been appointed by the Librarian of Congress James Billington to serve a second term as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.
"We are delighted that Ted Kooser has agreed to serve a second year," said Billington. "His dedication and initiatives are already attracting new audiences to poetry."
Kooser, who looks forward to serving a second term, said, "This past year, I have immensely enjoyed connecting with people all over the country and talking to them about reading and writing poetry." To conclude his first term, Kooser delivered a lecture at the Library on May 5 (see story here).
In April Kooser received the Pulitzer Prize for his book "Delights & Shadows" (Copper Canyon, 2004). The poet laureate said he had not expected to win a Pulitzer. "I was idly reading e-mails and found one from a woman in the public relations department of the University of Nebraska, saying she needed a quote from me about winning the Pulitzer. That was the first I'd heard of it. I was flabbergasted. I thought that being appointed poet laureate was a miracle, and now this!"
Kooser Promotes Poetry in Newspapers
During his first term as poet laureate, Kooser, with the support of the Poetry Foundation, inaugurated the program "American Life in Poetry" (www.americanlifeinpoetry.org), which offers a free weekly column to local newspapers around the country. He plans to continue the column in his second term.
Each 6- to 8-inch column features a brief poem by a contemporary American poet and a sentence or two of introduction by Kooser. This initiative offers the chance for poets to reach tens of thousands of readers. Outlets interested in receiving the weekly column should register for free delivery at www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.
"Newspapers are close to my heart and my family," said Kooser, whose wife and son both work in journalism. "As poet laureate, I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a smile or an insight."
Poetry was long a popular staple in the daily press. According to Kooser, "Readers enjoyed it. They would clip verses, stick them in their diaries and enclose them in letters. They even took time to memorize some of the poems they discovered."
In recent years, poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. Yet the attraction to it is still strong. Kooser said, "Poetry has remained a perennial expression of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives, as witnessed by the tens of thousands of poems written about the tragedy of Sept. 11 that circulated on the Internet. Now I'm hoping to convince editors that there could be a small place in their papers for poetry, that poetry could add a spot of value in the eyes of readers. Best of all, it won't cost a penny."
John Barr, president of the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization, said, "It is an honor to be allied with the Library of Congress. Through the office of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, the Library has done much to celebrate the best poetry and enlarge its audience. We are natural partners in the American Life in Poetry project, which will help get good poetry back into the mainstream."
Born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939, Kooser earned his bachelor's degree at Iowa State University in 1962 and his master's at the University of Nebraska in 1968. His other collections of poetry include "Sure Signs" (1980), which received the Society of Midland Authors Prize for the best book of poetry by a Midwestern writer published in that year; "One World at a Time" (1985); "Weather Central" (1994); and "Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison" (2000), winner of the 2001 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry.
A book of his essays, "Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps" (2002), won the Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003 and third place in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award in Nonfiction for 2002. Friends of American Writers selected "Local Wonders" as the best book written by a Midwestern writer for 2002, and the book also won ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award for autobiography. Kooser is the author, with his longtime friend Jim Harrison, of "Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry" (2003).
Among Kooser's other awards and honors are two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Pushcart Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Prize, the James Boatwright Prize and a merit award from the Nebraska Arts Council. He is editor and publisher of Windflower Press, a small press specializing in contemporary poetry. He teaches as a visiting professor in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.