From The Plains, A Poet Laureate

wheat in Nebraska AP

Great Plains poet Ted Kooser of Nebraska will be the next poet laureate of the United States.

"Ted Kooser is a major poetic voice for rural and small town America and the first poet laureate chosen from the Great Plains," said James Billington, Librarian of Congress, announcing Kooser's appointment. "His verse reaches beyond his native region to touch on universal themes in accessible ways."

Kooser, 65, replaces Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Gluck in the eight-month position.

The poet laureate's job carries with it few specific duties, to allow writers to work on their own projects. The post includes an office at the Library of Congress, a $35,000 salary and an obligation to deliver and organize readings. Previous poets laureate include Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove.

"I really want to throw myself into this and do what I can to further people's interest in poetry," Kooser said Wednesday. "I see part of my job as being a promoter of poetry of all kinds."

Kooser, a former insurance company executive, has written ten collections of poetry, most recently "Delights & Shadows," published this year.

Kooser's work has appeared in a number of periodicals including The New Yorker, The Hudson Review and Prairie Schooner.

Kooser said he has always been dedicated to writing poetry that people can understand.

He is successful in that, using the wide-open spaces, soft colors and beauty of the Plains - and the practicality of its people - to create evocative vignettes ranging from birthday thoughts of poets and cows to the decision of a potential reader to send her coat to the cleaners on the cash she could have spent on one of Kooser's books.

"What I think poetry can do is give people fresh ways to look at the world," Kooser said. "I attempt in my poems to take ordinary things and look at them in a new light."

An Iowa native and poet at age 18, Kooser graduated from Iowa State University in 1962 and earned his master's degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1968. He is a visiting professor and teaches writing in the university's English Department.

Kooser, who is married to Lincoln Journal Star Editor Kathleen Rutledge, will take up his duties in the fall.

  • Francie Grace

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