Inspiration in the Everyday

Talking Poetry with Pulitzer Winner Ted Kooser

Ted_Kooser.jpgIf you’ve been paying attention to the
world of poetry recently, you won’t have missed Ted Kooser, the
United States Poet Laureate from 2004 until last September and
winner of the Pulitzer for poetry in 2005. Kooser visited Santa
Barbara in 2005 for a reading at UCSB and is returning in March as
the keynote speaker/workshop leader for the Santa Barbara Writers
Conference Poetry Conference. Kooser is known for his exquisitely
evocative description, the accessibility of both his poetry and
prose, and his plain-spoken, opinionated essays. Speaking with the
man over the phone from his home in Nebraska felt very much like
reading his works.

I know you teach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
and that you have the luxury of mostly working with students
one-on-one, but I don’t know very much about you as a workshop
leader.
Well, we probably ought to examine the term
workshop. I really have a lot of difficulty with traditional
writers’ workshops. There are lots of things that go wrong.
Sometimes little cliques can develop among people there, a couple
of people rolling their eyes when someone is reading their work,
and that kind of thing. Also, the biggest problem, I think, is when
someone brings his or her poem to the workshop and everyone there
feels it’s necessary to find something wrong with it. And that’s
really not a very positive environment. That’s why I went to this
one-on-one tutorial teaching, just to get away from that sort of
group-think of the regular workshop.

When you are here in March for the Poetry Conference,
you are slated to do a master class workshop. What will that be
like?
Generally there’s not a whole lot of time in these
situations and I really prefer to mainly engage the people there in
a conversation, tell a little bit about myself and my own work
habits, and ask them what kind of obstacles they see to their own
writing and how can we address those. That’s not to say we wouldn’t
actually look at some poems. But generally I’ve had the feeling
that in a conversation, sometimes you can get much more information
imparted than you can by hovering over one person’s poem.
You are coming to talk about finding poetry in the
everyday.
Yes. My idea of subject matter is that we can
find plenty to write about in the most ordinary of lives if we just
simply stop and pay attention. There’s a very short poem inserted
in my prose book, Local Wonders, which I wrote some time
ago and it goes, “If you can awaken inside the familiar and
discover it new, you need never leave home.”

What’s the advantage of not having to leave
home?
There are plenty of advantages to going places and
looking at things and so on, but I am saying it isn’t necessary to
be a good writer. You don’t need to go to Paris, you don’t need to
go to New York. I mean, you could if you wanted to, obviously, and
that might be great fun, but there’s plenty to write about all
around you.

Do you have a particular poem you’ve written that
illustrates that?
Oh, there are lots of ’em. There’s a
poem in one of my earlier books that I think is such an example and
it’s called “The Leaky Faucet,” which is basically about the sound
that a faucet makes, dripping at night. I’ve written about the
sound furnaces make when they come on, the sound refrigerators make
when they come on. I write about things I see in the natural world
right around me. I think my favorite poem in Delights and
Shadows
is called “Screech Owl.” It’s about a little owl I saw
one morning walking up to the road while getting the newspaper.
It’s that sort of thing. I’m looking at things around me to honor,
in a way, or perhaps celebrate would be a better word.

We’re looking forward to having you come for the
conference.
Thank you. I’m looking forward to coming out.
It will be a nice time of year for me to be out there. We’ll be at
the point here where spring has not yet arrived and it’s cold and
wet and muddy. It will be a nice break. Everywhere I go, I always
meet people who I really like and it can be great fun doing this
sort of thing.

There’s an irony in your leaving home to come tell us we
don’t need to leave home.
(Laughs.) That’s true.

4·1·1

Ted Kooser will be part of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Poetry Conference on March 16-18. To register or get a brochure,
call 964-0367, email sbwritersconference@cox.net,
or see sbwc.org.

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