Interview With Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

Did you write poetry through your school years, and why was it that you began to write poems?

I started writing poems in grade school but didn't get serious about it untilI was in my late teens. I was desperately interested in being interesting. Poetry seemed a way of being different.

When was your first poem published and how old were you? Do you still value that poem?

Without asking me, my friends submitted a poem of mine to a teen magazine when I was 16 or 17, and they accepted it. It was not much of a poem and I'd be happy if it would stay buried forever.

How many revisions do your poems usually go through?

A short poem, which most of my poems are, will go through perhaps 30 or 40 versions before I'm happy with it.

When and how did you find out that your success in writing poems was to write about objects and common things?

This is something that I haven't thought much about. At some point I began towrite about the ordinary world, but it was not a program I was following or anything like that. It just happened.

What are the most important things that you consider when revising your poems?

I want them to be clear and understandable.

Do you think a poem can ever be completely finished?

Well, that's hard to say. I have some poems in print that are thirty years old and even today I can't think of ways to improve them.

How do you come up with ideas for a specific poem?

It all happens during the process of daily writing. The ideas just surface.

Do you have any techniques to spark ideas for your poems?

No, other than a need for peace and quiet.

How do you come upon titles for your poems?

I write my titles so as to contain as much information as they can. I want the titles to carry the bulk of the expositional setup information so that I don't have to put it into the poem.

Who are some of your favorite contemporary poets?

Connie Wanek, Nancy Willard, Jared Carter....

Of all the poems that you have written, which is your favorite and why?

I don't have a favorite, though my poem -Etude- in Weather Central is one I'm especially happy with.

When you were younger, did you imitate poets you admired, and, if so, how did this help you develop your own writing style?

Sure. I think all young poets imitate others. But as to the lasting influence
of the poets I imitated, I don't know. I do think that Elizabeth Bishop taught me that descriptive writing was OK, and that's what I've done for many years, that is, I have written poems of description.

What are two suggestions you could share with young poets who are serious about improving in their writing?

(1) Read and (2) read. Reading poetry is the best way to learn the art.

Check out Ted Kooser's official website at

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