The nation’s newest poet laureate is an Iowa native. Ted Kooser was born in Ames in 1939 and his ten collections of poetry have won several awards. The 65-year-old Kooser teaches English today at the University of Nebraska but in the fall he’ll acquire an office in the Library of Congress, a 35-thousand-dollar salary, and duties organizing poetry events and writing verse for special occasions. Kooser says poetry’s been a “hard sell” in this country and a lot of people get discouraged reading it, but he blames that on the way it’s taught. He says schoolteachers discourage us by treating poems like a nut you have to crack and get something out of, but there are really lovely things in poems, like fresh new ways of looking at the world. Kooser spent a career in the insurance industry but also found time to write ten books of poetry. As Poet Laureate, Kooser will work with the Library of Congress to organize poetry readings and projects to draw attention to the literary art. He cites a Colorado poet named Joe Hutchison who wrote a one-line poem: “O heart weighed down by so many wings,” and says no one could ever look at an artichoke the same way again after that — another fresh, vital way of looking at the ordinary world. Kooser, who got his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University in 1962, says a little metaphor in a poem can really change the way you look at things. He looks at the list of laureates past and says he feels like he’s on his knees before writers so good. Kooser’s married to the editor of the Lincoln, Nebraska, newspaper.
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