This sample Ted Kooser Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Ted Kooser is a Midwestern poet who did not gain national attention until relatively late in his career. Like Wallace Stevens, Kooser worked in the insurance business while writing his poetry. After retiring from his day job, Kooser began to gain increasing recognition, serving two terms as poet laureate of the United States and winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Poetry and the Insurance Business
Theodore J. Kooser, the son of Theodore B. Kooser and Vera Moser Kooser, grew up in Ames, Iowa, where he was born and where he attended college, earning a BS in English education from Iowa State University in 1962. He taught high school in Madrid, Iowa, for one year but then moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he has since lived. At first he did full-time graduate study in English at the University of Nebraska; however, when the department failed to renew his graduate appointment for his second year, he launched a successful career in insurance, meanwhile pursuing a master’s degree part-time and earning it in 1968.
Kooser worked his way up to second vice president of marketing at the Lincoln Benefit Life Company where he simultaneously pursued his interest in poetry. Throughout his insurance career, Kooser maintained a regimen in which he would rise early and spend several hours writing. Unlike Wallace Stevens, who kept his careers in insurance and poetry completely separate, Kooser tried his poems out on his colleagues at the office and credited his daily association with them as helping ”to keep the language of [his] poems from becoming literary.” Mainly, though, he thinks his job in insurance was not particularly helpful in his literary career; still, as he once quipped, it prevented him from giving away good metaphors, as he did when teaching night classes. By giving readings from Berkeley to New York, publishing and editing two magazines—the Salt Creek Reader (1967-1975) and the Blue Hotel (1980-1981)—and continuing to operate Windflower Press, Kooser stayed involved in the literary world during his tenure with Lincoln Benefit. He also worked as an adjunct professor of writing at the University of Nebraska
from 1970 to 1995. Official Entry Blank (1969), Kooser’s first book, unveils a novice experimenting with various forms, subjects, and voices. He tries rhymed quatrains, blank verse, sonnets, haiku, heroic couplets, and even found poems. Kooser’s first nationally acclaimed collection of poetry, Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems, was published in 1980 and found the poet in full command of his form and voice. Thanks to Kooser’s highly accessible approach, inspired by William Carlos Williams, he gained an instant and devoted following.
Poems on Postcards
In 1999 Kooser retired from his insurance career. Around the same time, he developed cancer, which led him to stop writing poetry. During his convalescence, he began writing poetry again, taking his inspiration from early morning walks. He would send the results on postcards to his friend and noted poet Jim Harrison. In 2001 the collected poems were published as Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison. In 2004 Kooser’s most acclaimed collection of poetry, his tenth, was published as Delights & Shadows.The book garnered Kooser the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
The same year Delights & Shadows was published, Kooser was named the thirteenth poet laureate of the United States, a post he held from 2004 to 2006. Kooser took his new post seriously, using it to advocate for poetry and encourage young, aspiring poets. To that end, Kooser published two nonfiction books full of advice for the beginning poet and wrote a regular column, ”American Life in Poetry.” Through all the increased notoriety, Kooser has maintained a residence on his Nebraska farm, writing and publishing his own poetry and teaching at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Works in Literary Context
When discussing his biographical roots in the Midwest, Kooser fends off attempts by critics to lump Plains poets together simply because their work shares common literal images of setting, as he notes in this quote from On Common Ground (1983): ”People have known for years that the best way to involve a reader in what he’s reading is to introduce concrete imagery, and when you live in a place you draw your imagery from what’s around you.” Because his poems rely on vivid particular details of ordinary life and they are presented simply and clearly, some critics, such as Dana Gioia, have cited William Carlos Williams as a major influence.
Like many poets of the generation before him, Ted Kooser began his career writing poems in traditional forms but then switched to free verse, a mode that better suited his Midwestern voice. Through this change Kooser perfected a short, descriptive but strikingly metaphorical type of poem that undergirded all his books from 1971 to 1985. This style enables Kooser to explore the underlying mystery in ordinary rural subjects. Some critics have found his manner of writing distinctive but also limiting. One weakness of it is that, as Gilbert Allen has said, Kooser ”writes essentially the same poem over and over again,” or, more accurately, the same kind of poem.
Landscape as Metaphor
What is most impressive and distinctive about Kooser’s style, and what gives his work its poetic authenticity, is his own metaphorical imagination. In poem after poem, nearly all less than one page in both Sure Signs and other publications, Kooser first involves his readers through precise particulars and then transforms these images into insightful metaphors. Though Kooser is similar to Robert Bly in his use of Midwestern landscapes, Kooser’s revelations, unlike Bly’s, are rarely sublime. But his technique perfectly illustrates Robert Frost’s idea that poetry essentially says one thing in terms of another. Just as Frost used New England for his metaphors, Kooser uses landscapes and portraits of the Plains states and their people as vehicles for expressing experiences and universal feelings, especially loss, decay, and loneliness.
This desolate image of emptiness recurs in different ways in memorable brief poems such as those in Not Coming to Be Barked At (1976). For instance, in ”The Afterlife,” Kooser presents a series of aptly chosen literal images that, juxtaposed, evoke the strange, vague atmosphere of a place where ”a foreign-language newspaper” rolls ”along the dock / in an icy wind,” and ”the horns of the tugs” turn “our great gray ship / back into the mist.” Similarly ”North of Alliance” is about the desolation of absence in a house so empty one finds ”not even / a newspaper sodden with rain / under a broken window.”
Works in Critical Context
The subjects and imagery of Kooser’s poetry unmistakably bear the influence of his environment, the Great Plains, but Kooser insists he is not a regionalist writer. However, until the University of Pittsburgh Press published Sure Signs in 1980, Kooser had published four of his books with Nebraska presses and the others with a variety of other regional publishers. Hence, Kooser’s audience remained narrow and primarily local. Furthermore, despite a favorable notice by William Cole in the November 2, 1974, issue of Saturday Review, Kooser continued to write without much critical notice beyond little Midwestern magazines, thus reinforcing the notion of his merely regional appeal. Then, with Sure Signs, critics in national publications began to recognize, as Peter Stitt said in the Georgia Review, that Kooser is ”an authentic poet of the American people,” a poet who wrests a universal resonance from regional subjects.
Sure Signs impressed many critics with its consistency and unity. Peter Stitt concluded in the Georgia Review that ”Kooser is a good poet… a clear and careful writer who deserves . . . attention.” In more resounding terms, critic Dana Gioia announced that the ”unified oeuvre” presented in Sure Signs demonstrates Kooser’s status as ”the master of the short colloquial imagistic poem…. Kooser [has] a genuine poetic style which accommodates the average reader” and exhibits ”unexpected moments of illumination from the seemingly threadbare details of everyday life.” However, in a New York Times review that Kooser calls ”nasty” and ”sneering,” Charles Molesworth objected that Kooser’s images, while sometimes ”fresh and keen … can also be humdrum or clumsy.” Molesworth also attacked the consistently brief length of Kooser’s poems, which he said makes them risk quaintness. Gioia was also bothered by Kooser’s narrow range of technique and his tendency to avoid the risks of failure associated with changing forms.
- ”Delights & Shadows.” Literary Newsmakers for Students. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2006.
- Gioia, Dana. ”Explaining Ted Kooser.” On Common Ground: The Poetry of William Kloefkorn, Ted Kooser, GregKuzma, and Don Welch. Edited by Mark Sanders and J. V. Brummels. Ord, Nebr.: Sandhills, 1983, pp. 83-99.
- –. ”Kooser, Ted.” Contemporary Poets. Edited by Thomas Riggs. 7th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 2001.
- Hatcher, Arnold. ”An Interview with Ted Kooser.” Voyages to the Inland Sea VI: Essays and Poems by Harley Elliott and Ted Kooser. Edited by John Judson. La Crosse, Wis.: Center for Contemporary Poetry, 1976, pp. 37-50.
- Sanders, Mark. ”An Interview with Ted Kooser.” On Common Ground: The Poetry of William Kloefkorn, Ted Kooser, Greg Kuzma, and Don Welch. Edited by Mark Sanders and J. V. Brummels. Ord, Nebr.: Sandhills, 1983, pp. 99-105.
- Allen, Gilbert. ”Measuring the Mainstream—A Review Essay.” Southern Humanities Review 17 (Spring 1983): 171-178.
- Stitt, Peter. ”The World at Hand.” Georgia Review 34 (Fall 1980): 661-670.
- Apple Learning Interchange. ”Ask Ted Kooser!” Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://edcom munity.apple.com/ali/story.php?itemID=11179. Last updated on October 4, 2008
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.