kooser

Ted Kooser

United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006)
Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Two Years in the Catbird Seat: My Experience as Poet Laureate
  • Fine Tuning Metaphors
  • Poetry and Cancer Recovery
  • An Evening with Ted Kooser


“Ted Kooser is an American original, whose work in poetry is akin to the paintings of Grant Wood and the music of Aaron Copland. Kooser’s poetry is regional and realistic, as lean as Shaker furniture, and like Shaker furniture it is a poetry that values aesthetic beauty, formal economy, and practical use.” —Kenyon Review

“Read individually, his poems sparkle with insight. Read together, they provide a broad and believable portrait of contemporary America.” — Dana Gioia

“There is a sense of quiet amazement at the core of all Kooser’s work.” —Ed Hirsch

Two-time United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006), the highly regarded Nebraskan poet Ted Kooser was the first poet from the Great Plains to hold the position. A professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he is the author of thirteen full-length collections of poetry, including Weather Central (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994) and Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon), which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. His two most recent books, Splitting An Order (Copper Canyon) and The Wheeling Year (University of Nebraska Press), were released in 2014. Kooser’s writing is known for its clarity, precision, and accessibility; and his poems are included in textbooks and anthologies used in both secondary schools and college classrooms across the country. In addition to poetry, Kooser has written in a variety of forms including plays, fiction, personal essays, literary criticism, and children’s books. As Poet Laureate he started the American Life in Poetry project.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) gives beginning poets tips for their writing. Lights on a Ground of Darkness (University of Nebraska Press, 2010) is a memoir of family stories. His first book of prose, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (University of Nebraska Press, 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. The book was chosen as the Best Book Written by a Midwestern Writer for 2002 by Friends of American Writers.  It also won the Gold Award for Autobiography in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards. He has written three children’s books from Candlewick Press, The Bell in the Bridge (2015), Bag in the Wind (2010), illustrated by Barry Root, and The House Held Up by Trees (2012).   In the spring of 2014, a literary biography of Kooser written by Mary K. Stillwell was published by University of Nebraska.

Over the years his works have appeared in many periodicals including The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, and Antioch Review. He has received two NEA fellowships in poetry, four Pushcart Prizes, the Stanley Kunitz Prize, The James Boatwright Prize, and a Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council.

Born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939, Kooser earned a BS at Iowa State University in 1962 and an MA at the University of Nebraska in 1968. He is a former vice president of the Lincoln Benefit Life, where he worked as an insurance executive for many years. He lives on an acreage near the town of Garland, Nebraska, with his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, and dog Howard. He also has a son, Jeff, and two granddaughters, Margaret and Penelope.

Ted Kooser’s website


A two-time United States Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser is the author of fourteen full-length collections of poetry, including Splitting An Order (2014); Weather Central; and Delights and Shadows, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. His prose books include The Wheeling Year (2014) and Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, which won the Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003. His writing has appeared in many periodicals including The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, and Antioch Review. He has received two NEA fellowships in poetry, and written three children’s books from Candlewick Press, The Bell in the Bridge (2015)Bag in the Wind, illustrated by Barry Root, and The House Held Up by Trees.


THE BELL IN THE BRIDGE (Children’s Book, 2015)
Forthcoming in 2015

SPLITTING AN ORDER (Poetry, 2014)

“Former U.S. Poet Laureate Kooser’s long-awaited follow-up to 2005’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Delights and Shadows is a journey of intimacies, a stroll through lives and minds via common objects and quotidian occurrences, that brims over with small profundities and discoveries.” —Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling poet Ted Kooser calls attention to the intimacies of life through commonplace objects and occurrences: an elderly couple sharing a sandwich is a study in transcendent love, while a tattered packet of spinach seeds calls forth innate human potential. This long-awaited collection from the former U.S. Poet Laureate—ten years in the making—is rich with quiet and profound magnificence.

THE WHEELING YEAR (Prose, 2014)

“Arranged by the months of the year, the plain-spoken and sometimes playful entries are also devotional in the sense that each one focuses intensely on a single moment, object, or scene, and can train us all to hone a similar focus on our everyday lives.” —Basalt

Ted Kooser sees a writer’s workbooks as the stepping stones upon which a poet makes his way across the stream of experience toward a poem. Because those wobbly stones are only inches above the rush of the days, sometimes what’s jotted there feels closer to life than any finished work that might come of it. Kooser, a former U. S. Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, has filled scores of workbooks. The Wheeling Year offers a sequence of polished workbook entries that may be both closer and truer to life, and perhaps more moving, than any poem he might have forced into shape. The University of Nebraska Press presents this lovely book in the year in which Ted Kooser turns 75, with 60 years of workbooks stretching across the years behind him.

THE HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES, Illustrated by Jon Klassen (Children’s Book, 2012)
When the house was new, not a single tree remained on its perfect lawn to give shade from the sun. The children in the house trailed the scent of wild trees to neighboring lots, where thick bushes offered up secret places to play. When the children grew up and moved away, their father, alone in the house, continued his battle against blowing seeds, plucking out sprouting trees. Until one day the father, too, moved away, and as the empty house began its decline, the trees began their approach. At once wistful and exhilarating, this lovely, lyrical story evokes the inexorable passage of time—and the awe-inspiring power of nature to lift us up. From Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Ted Kooser and rising talent Jon Klassen comes a poignant tale of loss, change, and nature’s quiet triumph.

LIGHTS ON A GROUND OF DARKNESS (Memoir, 2009)
Like the yellow, pink, and blue irises that had been transplanted from house to house over the years, the stories of poet Ted Kooser’s family had been handed down until, as his mother lay ill and dying, he felt an urgency to write them down. With a poet’s eye for detail, Kooser captures the beauty of the landscape and the vibrancy of his mother’s Iowa family, the Mosers, in precise, evocative language. The center of the family’s love is Kooser’s uncle, Elvy, a victim of cerebral palsy. Elvy’s joys are fishing, playing pinochle, and drinking soda from the ice chest at his father’s roadside Standard Oil station. Kooser’s grandparents, their kin, and the activities and pleasures of this extended family spin out and around the armature of Elvy’s blessed life. Kooser has said that writing this book was the most important work he has ever undertaken because it was his attempt to keep these beloved people alive against the relentless erosion of time.

DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS (Poetry, 2004)
Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. For more than thirty years the 13th United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006) Ted Kooser’s poems have offered proof that poetry need not be forbidding, nor difficult, nor intentionally obscure. Here is a poet who works toward clarity and accessibility so that each distinctive poem appears to be as fresh and bright and spontaneous as a good watercolor painting. He is a haiku-like imagist and the “tender wisdom” infusing his poems has been compared to Chekov’s. These qualities are in abundance in Delights and Shadows, as Kooser draws inspiration from the overlooked details of daily life. Quotidian objects like a pegboard, creamed corn, and a forgotten salesman’s trophy help reveal the remarkable in what before was a merely ordinary world.

AMERICAN LIFE IN POETRY PROJECT
The Poetry Foundation has formed a partnership with the Library of Congress to support the American Life in Poetry project, an initiative of Ted Kooser in his role as Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress. 
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. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry. In recent years poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. Yet the attraction to it is still strong. Kooser, whose wife and son both work in journalism, writes, “Newspapers are close to my heart and my family. As Poet Laureate I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a chuckle or an insight.” To read the current column, or to view the column archives, visit American Life in Poetry.


THE WOMAN WHOSE HUSBAND WAS DYING

She turned her eyes from mine, for within mine
she knew there wasn’t room for all her sorrow.
She needed a plain that she could flood with grief,
and as she stood there by the door I saw the distance
before her slowly filling, as if from hidden springs,
and she stepped outside, and placed one foot
and then the other on the future, and it held her up.

— from Splitting an Order

TATTOO

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

—from Delights & Shadows

FLYING AT NIGHT

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

—from Flying at Night

LIGHTS ON A GROUND OF DARKNESS (chapter excerpt)

Lying in the grass beside the foundation of the white house is a broken headstone, a little bigger than a conventional brick, inscribed with the initials M.L.M. It is from the grave of Millard Laurel Moser, my grandparents’ second child, who died in infancy. Somehow the stone got broken from its base and was brought down to the house, perhaps with the promise that someday it would be taken back to the cemetery and cemented into place. But it never got back. Years later, when my grandparents’ house is sold, my mother will pick up the stone and take it to her house. Eventually I will take it home with me, where I will keep it on my writing desk. No one alive knows where Millard’s grave is. On his small headstone is a dime-sized spot of white paint or whitewash, dropped there at some time when the house was repainted or when the stones along the driveway were whitewashed. The drop is the size of a doorbell, and sometimes I put my finger on it as if I thought it might open a door into the past.

LOCAL WONDERS: SEASONS IN THE BOHEMIAN ALPS (excerpt)

Life is a long walk forward through the crowded cars of a passenger train, the bright world racing past beyond the windows, people on either side of the aisle, strangers whose stories we never learn, dear friends whose names we long remember and passing acquaintances whose names and faces we take in like a breath and soon breathe away.

There’s a windy, perilous passage between each car and the next, and we steady ourselves and push across the iron couplers clenched beneath our feet. Because we are fearful and unsteady crossing through wind and noise, we more keenly feel the train rock under our legs, feel the steel rails give just a little under the weight, as if the rails were tightly stretched wire and there were nothing but air beneath them.