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At Home with Poet Laureate Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser, at his home outside the small town of Garland, Neb.
Ted Kooser, at his home outside the small town of Garland, Neb.
Kooser writes in his living room. "I just sit there under the floor lamp early in the morning and work and see what happens," he says.
Andrea Hsu, NPR /
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Kooser writes in his living room. "I just sit there under the floor lamp early in the morning and work and see what happens," he says.
Kooser's "outdoor library" is a place to write, read and nap.
Andrea Hsu, NPR /
/
Kooser's "outdoor library" is a place to write, read and nap.

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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