Magazine article American Libraries

Straight Answers from Ted Kooser

Magazine article American Libraries

Straight Answers from Ted Kooser

Article excerpt

You'll never be able to make a living writing poems," Ted Kooser cautions beginning poets in The Poetry Home Repair Manual, due out in January from the University of Nebraska Press. "But look at it this way: Any activity that's worth lots of money, like professional basketball, comes with rules pinned all over it. In poetry, the only rules worth thinking about are the standards of perfection you set for yourself." While Kooser speaks from experience--for 35 years, he supported himself with a job in the insurance business, rising at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. to put in a few hours of writing before heading to the office--he also speaks with authority, having published 10 collections of poetry, earned numerous awards, and now, taken on the role of the 13th U.S. poet laureate. Kooser officially began his new post as the Library of Congress's consultant in all things poetry by opening LC's annual literary series October 7 and speaking at the National Book Festival October 9.

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How did you find out about your appointment? Was it a surprise? I received a phone call, and it was, indeed, a complete surprise. I am still a little surprised, two months later.

What do you see as the role of the poet laureate? To try to expand the audience for poetry. I intend to do that largely by showing people that there are poems that don't turn readers away by their obscurity and difficulty.

What will you be doing for LC in the next year? Do you have a specific project planned, such as Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project? It's still too early to go on record with my ideas, but I do plan to undertake a project or two.

What is the value of libraries in your work? My first job, as a boy of 12 or so, was making the posters for the glass cases in front of our Carnegie Library in my hometown of Ames, Iowa, and I have been devoted to public libraries ever since. I once wrote a novel, not a very good one and unpublished, set in a library in a small town. …

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