She grew up in a housing project near the Susquehanna River. She earned her B.A. from Pennsylvania State University in 1990, her MFA from Arizona State University in 1994, and her Ph.D. from Arizona State University in 1999. She has taught at Missouri Western State College, Southern Illinois University and the University of Missouri. She currently teaches in the MFA program at University of Colorado at Boulder.
Bruce Weigl and John Balaban served as early role models for Kocher, and their backgrounds as working class poets writing out of the Vietnam War are continually evident in the political leanings of her work. Kocher went on to study with Norman Dubie, Alberto Rios, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, and Jeannine Savard in the graduate writing program at Arizona State University which as also turned out such writers as Lisa Chavez, Rick Noguchi, Steve Scafidi, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Oliver de la Paz, Tayari Jones, Jeannie Clark, Lee Barnes and Miguel Murphy among others. Kocher has also attended workshops or seminars run by Yusef Komunyakaa, Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Nicky Finney, Kwame Dawes, Jean Valentine, and Al Young.
After studying in the Master of Fine Arts program, Kocher went on to earn a Ph.D in American Literature, concentrating on the work of Gertrude Stein, Nella Larsen, H.D., and other Modernist and Harlem Renaissance writers, focusing most specifically on the uses of multiple voice and modes of 'passing'. Her collaborative scholarly work on Frederick Douglass (Miller, Keith D., and Ruth Ellen Kocher. “Shattering Kidnapper's Heavenly Union: Interargumentation in Douglass's Oratory and Narrative.” Hall 1999. 81-87.) has become a staple pedagogical tool in teaching Douglass's Narrative. In addition to scholarly publication, Kocher has also taught and published non-fiction and memoir and run creative writing workshops in various retreats and writing programs across the country.
Her poetry has appeared in various literary journals and magazines, including Washington Square Journal, Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, Clackamas Literary Review, The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, African American Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Antioch, among others, and has been translated into Persian in the Iranian literary magazine She'r and the Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets. She has been a fellow at the Bucknell Seminar, the Cave Canem Workshop, and Yaddo. She has also worked as a fellow in the Cave Canem Workshop and Retreat.
Kocher's work can be described as a marriage of lyric and innovative forms, following in the footsteps of mentors such as Goldberg and Dubie, and reminiscent of other inspirations such as Valentine and Komunyakaa
- Green Rose Prize in Poetry, for When the Moon Knows You're Wandering
- Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, for Desdemona's Fire
- "Alice Coltrane and Discovers the World G/god is B/born", Blackbird, Fall 2009
- "string theory", Blackbird, Fall 2009
- One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press, 2003)
- When the Moon Knows You're Wandering (New Issues Press, 2002)
- Desdemona's Fire (Lotus Press, 1999)