United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, Ted Kooser is known for his simple yet evocative poems distilling the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains into easy to digest scenes while managing to relate the wonder inherent in the everyday. Born in Ames, Iowa in 1939, he began writing in grade school and was a steady patron at the local library. Ted continued his education at Iowa State University studying English and student taught classes. After receiving his Bachelor’s he was offered a graduate readership opportunity from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, moving there with his wife in 1963. Despite winning awards for his poetry, he lost his readership due to a poor GPA.
Kooser’s poetry has been praised for his unadorned writing style that captures the rustic simplicity of the Great Plains while relating truths common to all. Early in his writing career he discovered that the most effective poetry was that which used everyday speech, rejecting the elevated structures of classical poetry and instead writing in free verse. He takes his inspiration from common experiences, believing that “a poet is someone who actually witnesses something and truthfully reports back.” His poems work like all good poetry, turning the ordinary into something enchanting, a task made more impressive by his adherence to the vernacular.
This use of the common tongue comes from Kooser’s desire to reach an audience that may not be drawn to traditional poetry. He would rather talk to those who have experienced what he has and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, especially those from the Midwest where most of his life was spent. Whether you are a native of the Great Plains or simply interested to experience it vicariously, Kooser’s poems encapsulate the region in quick yet effective glances at the seemingly simple yet often dramatic places and people that live between the bustling coasts.
After graduating from Iowa State and UNL with a Master’s degree, he worked as a life insurance executive, waking early to write poetry. By the time he retired as a vice president he had published seven books of poetry. Over his career he has won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for his book Delights and Shadows, the Pushcart Prize, the Mari Sandoz Award, and the Nebraska Book Award. In 2004 he was selected to be the U.S. Poet Laureate, receiving the title again the next year. He is still publishing poems and now has over twenty-five collections printed, as well as several memoirs and children’s books, and lives outside the village of Garland, Nebraska.
Several of Kooser’s works are available at Bellevue University Library, located in the general collection. All books can be borrowed for 21 days with the option of renewal.