Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Tuesdays with Ted

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Tuesdays with Ted

Article excerpt

In the fall of 2002 I was no longer working full-time so I enrolled in Ted Kooser's graduate poetry class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I'd known Ted for years and admired his writing; this was my chance to learn what the master had to say.

I wasn't an English major but had taken a few writing classes over the years. It quickly became evident this would be no ordinary workshop. On the first day Ted told us this would be our only meeting together; for the rest of the semester, we'd meet him individually in his office for an hour each week, and that we should bring something new to look at each time. So each week from late August to early December, I walked from my part-time job on campus to his spare office on the second floor of Andrews Hall at 3:30 on Tuesdays, its south window overlooking the library, the Willa Cather native plant gardens and the tops of trees surely changing from green to yellow to red.

The format seldom varied. After a little chitchat, I handed him a new poem and he read it to himself for the first time in front of me. We were not allowed to read our poems aloud, because "it would influence my perception of [the poem]." Then he'd comment on a line or a word or the entire poem itself. He wanted to make sure the poem was free of anything that might trip up a reader, stand in the way of understanding what the poem was trying to say. …

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