Excerpt from: Writer’s Almanac
Ted Kooser was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939. Like Wallace Stevens before him, he took a job in the insurance business, where he worked for many years. He would get up early and write poems for an hour and a half before he went to work. By the time he retired in 1999, Kooser had published seven books of poetry, including Not Coming to Be Barked At (1976), One World at a Time (1985), and Weather Central (1994). He resigned himself to being a relatively unknown poet, but he continued to write every morning. Then, in 2004, he got a phone call informing him that he had been chosen as poet laureate of the United States. He said: “I was so staggered I could barely respond. The next day, I backed the car out of the garage and tore the rear-view mirror off the driver’s side.”
Excerpt from an interview:
Where do the subjects of your poems come from? A strong sense of place is nearly always present.
All of my poems I really care about come from experiences I’ve had, things and people I’ve observed. Fiction has no place in my work. In this postmodern age I’m out of place, believing as I do that a poet is someone who actually witnesses something and truthfully reports back.
Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
Yes, certainly. When I was young I subscribed to the idea that poetry was made up of elevated language, put forth in elegant forms like the sestina and villanelle and sonnet. Now I believe that poems are most effective with readers when they sound like everyday speech. Thus I moved from metrical verse over to free verse.
Can you talk about your poem “Splitting an Order,” which was recently featured on The Writer’s Almanac? It is also the title of your latest collection of poems. Can you speak about the book as a whole? How are the poems arranged? Did you enjoy the process of putting it together?
That poem had its origin when I watched an older couple in a restaurant, splitting a sandwich. I used it as my title for the book because many of those poems are about ways in which people help one another. The way my books come together is one poem at a time. I never have a plan. Day after day I try to write single poems as best I can, and then after the best of them have been in literary magazines, I spread them on the floor and shuffle them around until I feel satisfied with the arrangement. There’s the book
* * *
Kooser served as U.S. poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, one of the first poet laureates to be selected from the Great Plains, and during that time, his book Delights & Shadows (2005) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. He also began a weekly newspaper column called “American Life in Poetry.” His goal was to introduce simple poems about ordinary subjects to people who might not otherwise read poetry. He lives on a 62-acre spread near Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Kathleen Rutledge. His latest collection, Splitting an Order, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2014.