Interview with Ted Kooser

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From 2004 – 2006 Ted Kooser was the US Poet Laureate and during his second term, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Kooser has been publishing his work since 1969 and is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

Howl: What advice do you have for budding writers?

Kooser: The most important thing is to read, to read anything and everything you can get your hands on. We learn to write by reading. Nothing is more important. Every failed piece of writing I see can be traced to the writer not having read enough.

Howl: Why is poetry the medium of expression you’ve chosen?

Kooser: Actually, though I am known as a poet, I write essays, children’s stories, fiction. Poetry has been a preferred genre because it comes in small packages, easily managed in limited portions of available time. Writing a novel, for example, is an immense project, taking up to several years. Poems are more spontaneous and I like that.

Howl: What is your writing/editing process like?

Kooser: I revise heavily. Any one of my short poems has been through many revisions. I revise toward clarity and accessibility, and when the poem is finished I want it to look as if I had just dashed it off.

Howl: Where do you see poetry styles heading in the 21st century?

Kooser: God knows! I am not smart enough to give you an answer, but poetry like all the arts reflects the times. I don’t know what the world will be like in ten, twenty or thirty years. And I won’t likely be around to find out. So I am immersed in the present.

Howl: How does a writer deal with rejection?

Kooser: You learn to take it for what it is, the opinion of just one person at the other end of the communication, a person who may be having a bad day. If you’ve sent a poem to a magazine about the joy of a committed relationship, and the editor has just gotten a divorce, well….

Howl: What responsibilities come with being the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry that you didn’t expect?

Kooser: I didn’t have expectations, nor were the responsibilities surprises, since I’d been told that the poet laureate could pretty much set his or her own agenda. You can find some information about that on the Library of Congress web site. Here’s a 
recent interview that mentions that.

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