"American Life in Poetry," the weekly newspaper column created and compiled by Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Ted Kooser, is reaching approximately 1.5 million newspaper readers every week, according to the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. The project is a partnership of the Library of Congress, the Poetry Foundation and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
One year into the project, the column has found a loyal readership in more than 70 newspapers. The free weekly column features a brief poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Kooser. A new column is available every Thursday at www.americanlifeinpoetry.org. Outlets interested in receiving the free column should register for e-mail delivery at the Web site.
In discussing the popularity of "American Life in Poetry," Kooser said, "Scarcely a day passes when we don't get a note or an e-mail from somebody saying that for years they've felt excluded from poetry, but now they've begun to feel that they're being welcomed back. And the fact that newspapers can use it for free has made it very attractive to editors."
Knowing that newspapers have little extra space, Kooser is committed to selecting poems of approximately 20 lines or fewer. He also keeps his introductory comments to a few succinct sentences. The poems picked thus far have come from all over America and from both well-recognized and little-known poets. As the title of the column suggests, the poems present snapshots of contemporary American life. They are chosen for quality, clarity and a generous openness toward the audience.
Poetry was long a popular staple in the daily press. In recent years, however, poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. According to Kooser, "People enjoyed reading poetry in newspapers. They would clip verses, stick them in their diaries, enclose them in letters. They even took time to memorize some of the poems they discovered."
Mike Wilson, features editor of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, recently told a reporter with the Associated Press that he put the decision of whether to run the feature to his readers, who overwhelmingly welcomed the addition of poetry to the paper. He has heard that "people are cutting out the columns to save and share, including teachers who are using them in the classroom."
Designed with small and mid-size newspapers in mind, the column has also been printed in major daily papers, including the Des Moines Register, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Arizona Daily Star, Omaha World-Herald, Syracuse Post-Standard, Providence Journal, Duluth News Tribune, Seattle Times, Spokesman-Review, Fayetteville Observer, Rapid City Journal, Florence Morning News, Times Herald-Record and Williamsport Sun-Gazette, as well as in weekly alternative papers such as the Detroit Metro News.
Weekly papers in which the column has found a home include the Falmouth Enterprise, Falmouth, Mass.; the Courier-Sentinel, Kiester, Minn.; the Morton County & Mandan News, Mandan, N.D.; the Sun, Mount Vernon, Iowa; the Farm & Daily, Salem, Ohio; the Salem Leader-Democrat, Salem, Ind.; and the Ellsworth American, Ellsworth, Maine.