WASHINGTON – Before an eager crowd at the Library of Congress,Ted Kooser confirmed,without a doubt,he has been a busy poet.
Reading 17 of his latest,unpublished poems,all written since his appointment as United States poet laureate one year ago,Kooser kicked off the 2005-06 literary season Thursday at the Library of Congress with a synopsis of the year.
He concluded with three of his unique Valentine's Day poems. Not typical love poems,they are sentimental odes – “Song of the Ironing Board” or “Oh Mariachi Me” – that he sends to about 1,500 people on Valentine's Day. He said audience members could add themselves to his list.
“I stand for a kind of poetry that the everyday person can understand,” he said. “My job as a poet is to make something special of the everyday world.”
Kooser read poems with intricate metaphors and personification – depicting the thoughts of a satellite dish, his wife's Spanish lessons,a girl on rollerblades and everyday lists that he distinguished as “the true seeds of civilized life.”
“I've written a lot of poems about people I see here and there,” he said. “I'm fascinated with gestures and objects.”
Kooser also read poetry satirically portraying his life as a poet.
“I’m already showing the first signs of poetic aphasia,” he read from the poem he called “Success.” “The words coming hard,the synapses of metaphor no longer connecting.”
In addition to undergoing 71 interviews and 107 personal appearances since his appointment,Kooser said his most notable accomplishment this year was his weekly column promoting poetry,“American Life in Poetry.” It is distributed to newspapers and online publications across the country.
Appearing in 134 publications and potentially reaching 9.6 million readers,the column is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation,the Library of Congress and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,where Kooser has taught. Each week he introduces a poem by a contemporary American poet,Kooser said.
Among those attending Kooser's reading were 25 high school seniors from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart,a girls school in suburban Bethesda,Md.
“He makes the poetry real for you,” said Kristen Manderscheid,17,a senior. “And he's very accessible.”
Kooser,who is working with the Library of Congress on an anthology of poems based on American folklore,said his biggest surprise as laureate was speaking in front of such large audiences.
“I've always been a little shy in front of big groups of people,but I've learned to overcome it,” he said in an interview.
Kooser,the author of 10 poetry collections,said he was recently named presidential professor at Nebraska,a first-time distinction at the university. He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry earlier this year for the poetry collection “Delights & Shadows.”
Kooser's schedule will not relent in the upcoming months. He will make more appearances in Washington and others in Kansas,New York,Pennsylvania,New Mexico and Iowa before settling down in his Nebraska home for the holidays.