Ted Kooser steps down as editor after launching American Life in Poetry 15 years ago

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In August this year, Ted Kooser announced that he would be retiring as editor of American Life in Poetry at the end of 2020. The award-winning poet, author, and editor Kwame Dawes will take over in January 2021.

As US poet laureate from 2004-06, Kooser created the column, to return poetry to newspapers after seeing it disappear over the years. After only eight months of curating the column, American Life in Poetry was reaching 1.5 million readers a week. During his years as editor, Kooser received a Pulitzer prize in 2005 for Delights & Shadows and many other awards and distinctions. 

“Ted’s selections still resonate like his first, ‘Neighbors’ by David Allan Evans,” said Sarah Whitcher, media and marketing director of the Poetry Foundation. “The poem set the tone for the next 15 years, giving us an intimate look at the American experience. We look forward to building upon the archive, and expanding perspectives and contributors, under the leadership of Kwame Dawes.”

The column is free for any media outlet to pick up and carry online or in print and has grown to an annual readership of 400 print columns and 20,000 weekly newsletter subscribers – including Write Out Loud. Kooser said: “I hope our readers are not nearly as wary or even terrified of poetry as they were before we began showing them poems that weren’t problems that had to be solved, but were there to enjoy.”

Kwame Dawes said: “What Ted Kooser has given to us with American Life in Poetry is a wonderful insight into what gifted American poets are writing. Ted’s efforts, in so doing, have presented me with a tremendous challenge for the future—how to celebrate the ways that our best poets manage to capture the democratic idea of America through poems that have value and meaning for as broad a cross-section of readers as can be imagined.”

The Poetry Foundation has said of Kooser: “Ted Kooser is known for his poetry and essays that celebrate the quotidian and capture a vanishing way of life. Populated by farmers, family ancestors, and heirlooms, Kooser’s poems reflect his abiding interest in the past while offering clear-eyed appraisal of its hardships.” His collections of poetry include Delights and Shadows (2004), Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985 (2005), Splitting an Order (2016), and Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems (2018). Kooser’s other publications, including The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (2005) and Writing Brave and Free (2006), offer help to aspiring poets and writers, both in the guise of practical writing tips and essays on poetry, poets, and craft.

Kooser, who is aged 80, has said: “I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”

Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. As a poet, he is profoundly influenced by the rhythms and textures of the country, citing in a recent interview his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music”. His book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius (2007) remains the most authoritative study of the lyrics of Bob Marley. His poetry collections include Wisteria: Poems From the Swamp Country (2006), Impossible Flying (2006), Back of Mount Peace (2009), Hope’s Hospice (2009), Wheels (2011), Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems (2013), and City of Bones: A Testament (2017). His honours and award include the Forward prize for best first collection for Progeny of Air (1994). Among the posts he holds, he is associate poetry editor of Peepal Tree Press in the UK.



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