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Ted Kooser, America's National Poet

Poetry is once again back in the news, literally. Ted Kooser, the Poet Laureate of the United States, is using his tenure as America's official poet to launch a poetry column, syndicated in newspapers all across the U.S.

Ted Kooser is Poet Laureate of the United States, chosen by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. to consult on, and promote the art of poetry. Ted is from Nebraska, a rural, relatively sparsely populated state, but you could say his new job is one he was born to do. "For me, what I wanted to do with my life was writing poems and I had to figure out some way of supporting myself. And so my job and my writing were completely separate really."

His full time job for 25 years was as an insurance executive - but he wrote poetry for hours every morning before heading to the office. Now he writes, teaches, and performs the duties of the Laureate full time. "I'm discovering how useful it is to have a title and you know that sort of thing. I'm going to have this newspaper column in which I try to once a week offer a column that newspapers readers could read. I've been thinking about getting poetry back in newspapers for 25 years, and never would have had the opportunity to do it without the force of this office behind me, that I could go out and talk to the important people in that area y'know," he said.

Here's a sample, from a poem called New Potato: Ted reads, "A scuffed up dirty turtle of the moon, buried early in spring. Her eyes like stars fixed on the future, and inside its red skin, whiteness, like all the moons to come, and marvelous, buttered with light."

In many of his 10 books Ted draws on the grandeur of his native Great Plains landscape in the western United States in verse that is simple and direct, yet subtly evocative.

Reciting from one of his poems, "It's quite a beautiful place, the beauty here is very subtle, and the colors are very muted I love it. I have been chosen at least in part because I represent a part of the country that has supposedly been underrepresented in these national honors and so on and it's an opportunity for us to get a little more recognition. There are lot's good writers out here on the Great Plain and they need some attention too."

As Poet Laureate he is able to make that happen, by inviting sometimes-underappreciated poets to read in the Library's literary series and by showcasing their work in his newspaper column.

His newfound fame has helped sales of his own 10 volumes of poetry as well. "The nicest thing that has happened so far is that I've gotten myself a lot more readers than I've had before. It also has brought me a tremendous amount of really wonderful mail from people"

Sometimes the satisfactions of his present position find even this fine poet at a loss for words.