Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate of the US, has a wonderful, inspiring book for writers who practice poetry — and many other forms of writing, too. Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual tells us that it’s “Practical Advice for Beginning Poets.” The book does deliver what it promises; no matter what state your poetry is in, Kooser’s advice and inspiration can lift your writing to a new level.
But much of what the Home Repair Manual teaches applies to any creative writing. Kooser has a compelling voice in everything that he writes. He wrote all his life, but only began to work as a full-time writer once he retired from the insurance business. Not your typical resume of a Poet Laureate.
Since he hails from Nebraska, he’s got none of the elitist attitude which so many serious writers and poets carry as needless baggage. Reading him is like listening to that favorite uncle or aunt who believes in what you can be, while they give you practical, gentle advice and stories you want to take away like beautiful shells from an ebb tide beach.
As for some of that multi-genre advice, you only need to read to the introduction to find something useful. It’s his reason for writing, something you ought to settle soon after you begin to write. He says, in describing his philosophy about writing, he owes a lot to Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Poetry. Kooser explains his faith is based on one of Hyde’s ideas. To our Poet Laureate, why he writes has become
… a belief that people who have an ability to write have an obligation to offer something of use to their chosen readers. Those who are gifted should give something back.
You get better at giving, better at writing, through practice. He’s as adept at prose narrative as he is deft with poetry: straightforward, unassuming language is his hallmark. On the merits of practice, he tells a story that appears both in his memoir Local Wonders and in the Repair Manual. He related a story about a three-state horseshoe pitching champion out in the “Bohemian Alps,” his term for the part of Nebraska where he lives. The champ, when asked how he got so good, said “Son, you got to pitch a hundred horseshoes a day.” Kooser adds
That’s the kind of advice beginning writers should listen to: Keep pitching them horseshoes. You need to be there writing and waiting, as a hunter might say, for that hour when at last the ducks come flying in.