Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Poetry Emotion Finds a New Niche

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Poetry Emotion Finds a New Niche

Article excerpt

William Carlos Williams famously wrote, "It is difficult/to get the

news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there." Thanks to U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and his American Life in Poetry project, poems -- a common feature of newspapers during the first half of the 20th century -- are now reaching about a million readers each week through more than 58 dailies and weeklies in this country.

Launched in April, the poetry column -- which every week features a poem chosen by Kooser and a brief introduction he also supplies -- has an alluring setup for a newspaper: The poems are short, free, and packed with meaning. Papers can choose to run them on whatever schedule suits their needs.

Tim White, opinion page editor of The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer, one of the first papers to take on the column, notes that "Kooser is going out of his way to keep it spare, so it's easy to find a corner for it." The Observer runs it on its Sunday books page. White says he appreciates that "it takes up no more room than the bestseller lists, and adds a new dimension to our pages." One further advantage: White did not need to ask the publisher's permission to run it.

Kooser, who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for his 10th collection, Delights and Shadows, first became interested in the press pushing poetry when he rented a room as an undergraduate in Ames, Iowa, from a woman who had two fat scrapbooks of poems clipped from newspapers. He has long discussed how poetry might be reintroduced to newspapers with his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, who is the editor of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star.

He pitched his idea last year at a newspaper conference in Washington, D.C. "I talked to them for a few minutes about what I had in mind, stressing that the columns would be free, would be short, and would showcase poems that everyday readers could understand and appreciate," Kooser tells E&P. "They were quite enthusiastic."

The poets themselves -- among them, Lisel Mueller, Wendell Berry, and Naomi Shihab Nye -- are obviously gratified to be reaching a sizable audience that the Poetry Foundation (which sponsors the project with the Library of Congress and the University of Nebraska, where Kooser is a visiting professor) estimates to be about one million readers each week. …

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