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"American Life in Poetry" Reaches 1.5 Million Readers

Free column brings poetry back to over 70 newspapers across America
December 12, 2005

Chicago — "American Life in Poetry," the newspaper column created by Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, is reaching approximately 1.5 million readers every week, The Poetry Foundation announced today. Eight months into the project, a partnership between the Chicago-based Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the poetry feature has found a loyal readership among the more than 70 papers in which it has appeared.

Each column includes a brief poem by a contemporary American poet and a sentence or two of introduction to the poem by Kooser. Editors interested in receiving the free weekly column via email should register at

In discussing the popularity of "American Life in Poetry," Kooser noted, "Scarcely a day passes when we don't get a note or an email from somebody saying that for years they've felt excluded from poetry, but now they've begun to feel that they're being welcomed back. And the fact that newspapers can use it for free has made it very attractive to editors."

Knowing that newspapers have little extra space, Kooser is committed to selecting poems of approximately twenty lines or less. He also keeps his introductory comments to a few succinct sentences. The poems picked for use thus far have come from all over America and from both well-recognized and little-known poets. As the title of the column suggests, the poems present snapshots of contemporary American life. They are chosen for quality, clarity, and a generous openhandedness toward the audience.

"'American Life in Poetry' was one of our first initiatives," said John Barr, President of the new Foundation, "and it is off to a strong start. By placing good poems before general readers, with a note of introduction from Ted Kooser, the program is a model for what we hope to do. It is an ingenious way to bring poetry back into the mainstream of American culture."

Poetry was long a popular staple in the daily press. In recent years, however, poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. According to Kooser, "People enjoyed reading poetry in newspapers. They would clip verses, stick them in their diaries, enclose them in letters. They even took time to memorize some of the poems they discovered."

Mike Wilson, features editor of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, recently told a reporter with the Associated Press that he put the decision of whether to run the feature to his readers, who overwhelmingly welcomed the addition of poetry to the paper. He has heard that "people are cutting out the columns to save and share, including teachers who are using them in the classroom."

Designed with small and mid-size newspapers in mind, the column has also been printed in major daily papers including the Des Moines Register, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Arizona Daily Star, Omaha World-Herald, Syracuse Post-Standard, Providence Journal, Seattle Times, Spokesman-Review, Fayetteville Observer, Duluth News Tribune, Rapid City Journal, Florence Morning News, Times Herald-Record, Williamsport Sun-Gazette, as well as in weekly alternative papers including the Detroit Metro News.

Weekly papers in which the column has found a home include the Falmouth Enterprise, Falmouth, MA; Courier-Sentinel, Kiester, MN; Morton County & Mandan News, Mandan, ND; Sun, Mt. Vernon, IA; Farm & Dairy, Salem, OH; Salem Leader-Democrat, Salem, IN; and the Ellsworth American, Ellsworth, ME.

In April 2005, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed Ted Kooser to serve a second term as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, during the same week that Kooser received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book, "Delights and Shadows"(2004).

Upon Kooser's first appointment as Poet Laureate in 2004, Billington said, "Ted Kooser is a major poetic voice for rural and small town America and the first Poet Laureate chosen from the Great Plains. His verse reaches beyond his native region to touch on universal themes in accessible ways." The author of ten collections of poetry, Kooser was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939.


The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring the best poetry before the largest possible audience. In the coming year, the Foundation will sponsor a recitation contest in the schools, a major new poetry website, and an unprecedented study to understand poetry's place in American culture.

Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe's "Open Door" policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry's mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing the first important poems of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H. D., William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In succeeding decades it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every significant poet of the 20th century.

Poetry has always been independent, unaffiliated with any institution or university—or with any single poetic or critical movement or aesthetic school. It continues to print the major English-speaking poets, while presenting emerging talents, in all their variety. In recent years, more than a third of the authors published in the magazine have been young writers appearing for the first time. On average, the magazine receives over 90,000 submissions per year, from around the world.


American Life in Poetry: Column 027

In this lovely poem by Angela Shaw, who lives in Pennsylvania, we hear a voice of wise counsel: Let the young go, let them do as they will, and admire their grace and beauty as they pass from us into the future.

Children in a Field

They don't wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls. It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance—
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green. What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm. Let them go. Let them go traceless
through the high grass and into the willow—
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.

Copyright © 2004 by Angela Shaw.

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