Friday, March 11, 2011

Learning from a Master

Last Saturday I spent the afternoon at the Boulder Public Library listening to Pulitzer Prize winner and former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser (2004-2006). The first part of the program was a discussion circle in which Kooser answered questions and talked about his work. After a short break, he was introduced by poet Jack Collom and read poetry in the library theater. Here are some highlights:
  • Kooser's book Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon, 2004), which won the Pulitzer, has sold over 100,000 copies! This is amazing and encouraging. He's clearly reaching an audience beyond the poets and students who traditionally buy poetry books.
  • We give our poems to the world; thus we should be considerate of a wide audience in choosing our language.
  • Ideas are fatal to the creation of poetry. Shared experience makes the best of his work.
  • White space at the end of a line is powerful; ending a line with an active verb turns the corner forcefully.
  • He "fails" 28 times out of 30 when he writes; he's happy to get 8 good poems a year; daily writing constitutes good practice. He told us about a champion horseshoe player who said he threw a hundred shoes a day to maintain his accuracy. (Maybe then, writing a hundred words a day isn't unreasonable.)
  • Kooser is aware of accentual and syllabic structure even though he writes "free" verse.
  • Yes, he learns from other writers, and shares his work with Bob King, Dan Gerber and Jim Harrison.
  • He paints.
  • It's good to write to poets whose work you admire.
  • His students are asked to read 100 poems by other people for every one they themselves write.
  • He read 20 poems that afternoon, with a bit of banter and explanation between poems. His voice is clear, not melodramatic, not coy or self-conscious.
  • One of his favorite poems is by Tomas Transtromer, "The Couple."
  • Kooser describes himself as an introvert who was so stunned by the cold call from the Library of Congress asking him to be Poet Laureate that he could not respond, decided to go for a drive to clear his head and return some videos. In backing the car out of the garage, he tore off a side mirror and forgot to drop off the videos.

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