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  • Writer Login


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    Ted Kooser

    Ted Kooser
    Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.
    Number of posts: 18
    Email address: email
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    By Ted Kooser:


      Southern Life

      An orchard made of words

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Feb 1, 2011
      An orchard made of words

      My grandmother Moser made wonderful cherry pies from fruit from a tree just across the road from her house, and I have loved fruit trees ever since. A cherry tree is all about giving. Here’s a poem by Nathaniel Perry, who lives in Virginia, giving us an orchard made of words.

      Snowballs in Virginia

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Dec 26, 2010
      Snowballs in Virginia

      Here’s a poem by Christopher Todd Matthews that I especially like for the depiction of the little boy who makes more of a snowball than we would have expected was there. This poet lives in Lexington, Virginia. Eating Them As He Came Dark by five, the day gives up and so do I, stalled at the top of the stairs I forget what for, adrift in a scrap of dream that’s not a dream exactly but a stupor, unrefined. I go astray in old routines, I dare myself to reconstruct the rules of old invented games—that one of throwing snowballs at the roof, to watch them shrink as they rolled down, spinning to their pits, to see the force that made them briefly a thing so neatly undone. Today an old friend’s tiny boy lobbied me to pitch some snowballs at him. I bowed to his dense little will. But […]

      Are dogs like dictators?

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Oct 19, 2010
      Are dogs like dictators?

      I have three dogs and they are always insisting on one thing or another. Having a dog is like having a dictator. In this poem by Mark Smith-Soto, who teaches in North Carolina, his dog Chico is very much like my dogs, demanding human company on whatever mission they choose to pursue.

      Thinking about other creatures

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Sep 6, 2010
      Thinking about other creatures

      In our busy times, the briefest pause to express a little interest in the natural world is praiseworthy. Most of us spend our time thinking about other people, and scarcely any time thinking about other creatures. I recently co-edited an anthology of poems about birds, and we looked through lots of books and magazines, but here is a fine poem we missed, by Tara Bray, who lives in Richmond, Virginia.

      Fireflies ‘rise like sparks’

      by | 4, Add your Comment | Aug 2, 2010
      Fireflies ‘rise like sparks’

      Marilyn Kallet lives and teaches in Tennessee. Over the years I have read many poems about fireflies, but of all of them hers seems to offer the most and dearest peace.

      The ‘words from immortality’ …

      by | 3, Add your Comment | May 10, 2010
      The ‘words from immortality’ …

      If writers are both skilled and lucky, they may write something that will carry their words into the future, past the hour of their own deaths. I’d guess all writers hope for this, and the following poem by Peter Cooley, who lives in New Orleans and teaches creative writing at Tulane, beautifully expresses his hope, and theirs.

      Private pleasures: Washing dishes

      by | 0, Add your Comment | May 3, 2010
      Private pleasures: Washing dishes

      Here’s a poem by Susan Meyers, of South Carolina, about the most ordinary of activities, washing the dishes, but in this instance remembering this ordinary routine provides an opportunity for speculation about the private pleasures of a lost parent.

      Black platters whose music once crackled

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Apr 19, 2010
      Black platters whose music once crackled

      Tell a whiny child that she sounds like a broken record, and she’s likely to say, “What’s a record?” Jeff Daniel Marion, a Tennessee poet, tells us not only what 78 rpm records were, but what they meant to the people who played them, and to those who remember the people who played them.

      At the edges of floods

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Mar 29, 2010
      At the edges of floods

      When we hear news of a flood, that news is mostly about the living, about the survivors. But at the edges of floods are the dead, too. Here Michael Chitwood, of North Carolina, looks at what’s floating out there on the margins.

      Suffering from things done & undone

      by | 2, Add your Comment | Mar 22, 2010
      Suffering from things done & undone

      All over this country, marriage counselors and therapists are right now speaking to couples about unspoken things. In this poem, Andrea Hollander Budy, an Arkansas poet, shows us one of those couples, suffering from things done and undone.

      Saying ‘au revoir to the ritual’

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Feb 15, 2010
      Saying 'au revoir to the ritual'

      A poem is an experience like any other, and we can learn as much or more about, say, an apple from a poem about an apple as from the apple itself. Since I was a boy, I’ve been picking up things, but I’ve never found a turtle shell until I found one in this poem by Jeff Worley, who lives in Kentucky.

      The prolific Lyn Lifshin

      by | 2, Add your Comment | Jan 11, 2010
      The prolific Lyn Lifshin

      The poet Lyn Lifshin, who divides her time between New York and Virginia, is one of the most prolific poets among my contemporaries, and has thousands of poems in print, by my loose reckoning. I have been reading her work in literary magazines for at least thirty years. Here’s a good example of this poet at her best.

      A poem that will bowl you over

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Oct 26, 2009
      A poem that will bowl you over

      We’ve published this column about American life for several years, and we have finally found a poem about one of the great American pastimes, bowling. “The Big Lebowski” caught bowling on film, and this poem by Regan Huff of Georgia captures it in words. Occurrence on Washburn Avenue Alice’s first strike gets a pat on the back, her second a cheer from Betty Woszinski who’s just back from knee surgery.   Her third— “A turkey!” Molly calls out—raises everyone’s eyes. They clap.   Teresa looks up from the bar. At the fourth the girls stop seeing their own pins wobble. They watch the little X’s fill the row on Alice’s screen— That’s five.   That’s six.   There’s a holy space around her like a saint come down to bowl with the Tuesday Ladies in Thorp, Wisconsin. Teresa runs to get Al, and Fran calls Billy at the Exxon.   The bar crowds with silent men. No one’s cheering.   No one’s […]

      ‘Clarity amidst the disorder’

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Oct 19, 2009
      'Clarity amidst the disorder'

      Poetry can be thought of as an act of persuasion: a poem attempts to bring about some kind of change in its reader, perhaps no more than a moment of clarity amidst the disorder of everyday life. And successful poems not only make use of the meanings and sounds of words, as well as the images those words conjure up, but may also take advantage of the arrangement of type on a page. Notice how this little poem by Mississippi poet Robert West makes the very best use of the empty space around it to help convey the nature of its subject. Echo A lone voice in the right empty space makes its own best company. Photo: Robert West photo by Richard Patteson American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the […]

      Judy Loest: Rooted in storytelling tradition

      by | 3, Add your Comment | Oct 13, 2009
      Judy Loest: Rooted in storytelling tradition

      Judy Loest lives in Knoxville and, like many fine Appalachian writers, her poems have a welcoming conversational style, rooted in that region’s storytelling tradition. How gracefully she sweeps us into the landscape and the scene! Faith Leaves drift from the cemetery oaks onto late grass,    Sun-singed, smelling like straw, the insides of old barns.    The stone angel’s prayer is uninterrupted by the sleeping    Vagrant at her feet, the lone squirrel, furtive amid the litter.    Someone once said my great-grandmother, on the day she died,    rose from her bed where she had lain, paralyzed and mute    For two years following a stroke, and dressed herself—the good    Sunday dress of black crepe, cotton stockings, sensible, lace-up shoes.    I imagine her coiling her long white braid in the silent house,    Lying back down on top of the quilt and folding her hands,    Satisfied.   […]

      Miller Williams: ‘What did you say?’

      by | 3, Add your Comment | Oct 5, 2009
      Miller Williams: 'What did you say?'

      I’ve gotten to the age at which I am starting to strain to hear things, but I am glad to have gotten to that age, all the same. Here’s a fine poem by Miller Williams of Arkansas that gets inside a person who is losing her hearing. Going Deaf No matter how she tilts her head to hear she sees the irritation in their eyes. She knows how they can read a small rejection, a little judgment, in every What did you say? So now she doesn’t say What? or Come again? She lets the syllables settle, hoping they form some sort of shape that she might recognize. When they don’t, she smiles with everyone else, and then whoever was talking turns to her and says, “Break wooden coffee, don’t you know?” She pulls all she can focus into the face to know if she ought to nod or shake […]

      Barks’ poems: ‘Brim full of joy’

      by | 2, Add your Comment | Sep 28, 2009
      Barks' poems: 'Brim full of joy'

      Coleman Barks, who lives in Georgia, is not only the English language’s foremost translator of the poems of the 13th century poet, Rumi, but he’s also a loving grandfather, and for me that’s even more important. His poems about his granddaughter, Briny, are brim full of joy. Here’s one: Glad In the glory of the gloaming-green soccer field her team, the Gladiators, is losing ten to zip. She never loses interest in the roughhouse one-on-one that comes every half a minute. She sticks her leg in danger and comes out the other side running. Later a clump of opponents on the street is chant- ing, WE WON, WE WON, WE . . . She stands up on the convertible seat holding to the wind- shield. WE LOST, WE LOST BIGTIME, TEN TO NOTHING, WE LOST, WE LOST. Fist pumping air. The other team quiet, abashed, chastened. Good losers don’t laugh […]

      Bottoms heeds the details

      by | 3, Add your Comment | Sep 21, 2009
      Bottoms heeds the details

      I tell my writing students that their most important task is to pay attention to what’s going on around them. God is in the details, as we say. Here David Bottoms, the Poet Laureate of Georgia, tells us a great deal about his father by showing us just one of his hands. My Father’s Left Hand Sometimes my old man’s hand flutters over his knee, flaps in crazy circles, and falls back to his leg. Sometimes it leans for an hour on that bony ledge. And sometimes when my old man tries to speak, his hand waggles in the air, chasing a word, then perches again on the bar of his walker or the arm of a chair. Sometimes when evening closes down his window and rain blackens into ice on the sill, it trembles like a sparrow in a storm. Then full dark falls, and it trembles less, and […]

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