Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser
* Poems. * Prose. * Time Line. * Books.


Short, calm, mostly accessible book of 59 poems grouped in 4 sections. The emphases of the four sections are:

  1. Someone (implicitly a stranger) observed. Favorites include the 10-year-old girl in "Gyroscope", the elders of "The Old People", and the young wheelchair-bound woman in "A Rainy Morning".
  2. Family, mainly in the past (parents, grandparents).
  3. Age, death, and the past, including "Turkey Vultures" and "Grasshoppers".
  4. The poet himself, including "The Early Bird", "The Washing of Hands", and the brilliant "Tectonics".

Many of his metaphors are of the work we used to have to do, such as the equation of fanned vulture wingtips with the smoothing of a tissue-paper sewing pattern ("Turkey Vultures") and the equation (through the amazing verb 'tinkering' and a bold abstraction) of the noise of grasshoppers and a farmer's much-needed rain ("Grasshoppers"):

   "This year they are exactly the size
   of the pencil stub my grandfather kept
   to mark off the days since rain,
   past the empty barn, the empty silo,
   you hear them tinkering with irony,
   slapping the grass like drops of rain."  



The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (2005)

Buy 'Poetry Home Repair Manual'


  1. A Poet's Job Description

    Revision, and I mean extensive revision, is the key to transforming a mediocre poem into a work that can touch and even alter a reader's heart. It's the biggest part of the poet's job description.

  2. Writing for Others

    It's your job as you revise to think about the presence you're communicating. What will your reader think of the person who comes through the words, and how can your reader's assessment be directed and controlled?

  3. First Impressions
  4. Don't Worry About the Rules
  5. Rhyming, Ham Cubes, and Prose Poems
  6. Writing About Feelings

    One of the hardest things to learn is how poems can express strong feelings without expressly stating those feelings.

  7. Can You Read Your Poem through Your Poem?
  8. Writing from Memory

    A poem must be something more than an anecdote arranged in lines. Yet artful composition ... can elevate an anecdote into true poetry.

  9. Working with Detail

    The poet Linda Gregg asks her students to take a close look at just six things each day. What seems like a simple discipline turns out to be quite difficult because, by habit, most of us go through our lives without paying much attention to anything ... it's observed details that really make a poem vivid.

  10. Controlling Effects Through Careful Choices

    A line ending is a force in a poem, much like a punctuation mark. That white space out there on the right is an opportunity, and you ought to take advantage of it.

    ... A poem is a machine of language designed to accomplish something. Whatever the poem hopes to accomplish, the work of writing the poem can't be hurried. ... Each choice the poet makes must bring the poem a little closer to its potential. It is impossible to achieve perfection, but any poem will be more effective if it falls just a little short of perfection rather than a long way short.

  11. Fine-Tuning Metaphors and Similes

    It's inappropriate to take as your subject somebody's misfortune and make of it a literary event.

    ... primary items on the 'parts list' for poetry include ... metaphors, similes, and careful description ... [as well as] use of repetition ... and understatement.

  12. Relax and Wait

    The first step in spotting its flaws is a simple one. Set aside what you've written and let it cool off for a while, the longer the better. Take a look at it after twenty-four hours if you must, tinker with it a little. Does there seem to be an awkward rhythm in one of the lines? Are there places that could use more specific detail? And so on. Then set it aside for as long as you can stand to. Like a petri dish, the longer you leave a poem by itself the more stinky fungus will surface. ...

    If you can manage to do it, leave your poem alone till it begins to look as if somebody else might have written it. Then you can see it for what it is, a creation independent of you, out on its own. A poem must be equipped to thrive by itself in a largely indifferent world. You can't be there with it, like a parent, offering explanations, saying to a confused reader, Yes, but here's what I meant!. A poem has to do all of its own explaining.

Time Line

Poetry: Delights and Shadows.

Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (2005).


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