Daily Writing, Imagination Helps Pulitzer-Winning Poet Reach Broad Audience

Ted Kooser wrote much of his poetry while he worked as a life insurance executive.

“I knew very early in life that I would never be able to make a living as a poet, and that if I wanted to support myself and a family I would need to find a job that wouldn’t take every ounce of energy I had, so I’d be able to write in my spare time,” Kooser says. “I got up early every morning, sometimes at 5, sometimes at 4:30, and did my writing before it was time to get dressed for work.”

Because he worked with people who didn’t often read poetry, his poems have tried to reach others like them. He imagines a reader, their limitations — educational and literary — and chooses words and ideas that might fill their expectations.

“For example, if I were to put King Lear in a poem, I could expect that a limited number of people would know who he was, and the rest of the readers would be excluded,” Kooser says. “But if within the bounds of the poem I not only mentioned him but explained, briefly, who King Lear was, I would then include more readers.”

Kooser gained a broad audience through this method of imagination, publishing over 30 books and chapbooks. His most recent poetry collection, Splitting an Order, appeared in 2014. He’s written three children’s books as well.