The Poet Laureate
Both Robert Frost and Robert Penn Warren have been, Stanley Kunitz is for the second time, but somehow Carl Sandburg never was. U.S. Poet Laureate, that is.
Charged with working to raise the nation's appreciation of poetry during his or her term, the Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and serves from October to May.
From 1937 through 1985, the position of Poet Laureate existed under the title "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress," but was officially changed to "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress" starting in 1986 by an Act of Congress.
Robert Penn Warren, who served from 1986-1987 was the first poet officially designated "Poet Laureate."
In selecting the Poet Laureate, the Librarian of Congress seeks input from the current and past Laureates, and recognized poetry critics.
The Poet Laureate is paid a yearly stipend of $35,000 funded by a gift from Archer M. Huntington. Specific duties are kept at minimum, providing the Laureates freedom to work on their own writing projects. The Laureate is expected to deliver an annual lecture and reading of his or her poetry. In addition, the Laureate typically plays a major roll in organizing the Library of Congress' annual poetry series, one of the oldest and most respected in America. Since the 1940s, the Laureates have hosted over 2,000 poets and authors for readings to the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
Many innovative ideas for advancing the national awareness of poetry have come from the Poet Laureates. The idea of posting poetry in high-traffic public place came from Joseph Brodsky. Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks traveled the U.S. meeting with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Rita Dove combined poetry and jazz in promoting children's poetry.
Current Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz also served as Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress from 1974 through 1976. Kunitz has published ten books of poetry including Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (W.W. Norton, 1995), which won the National Book Award; Next-to-Last Things: New Poems and Essays (1985); The Poems of Stanley Kunitz, 1928-1978, which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Testing-Tree (1971); and Intellectual Things (1930). He also co-translated Orchard Lamps by Ivan Drach (1978), Story under Full Sail by Andrei Voznesensky (1974), and Poems of Akhmatova (1973), and edited The Essential Blake (1987), Poems of John Keats (1964), and The Yale Series of Younger Poets (1969-77).
Former President Clinton awarded Kunitz the National Medal of the Arts in 1993. Among many other awards and honors, he has received the Bollingen Prize, a Ford Foundation grant, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, Harvards Centennial Medal, the Levinson Prize, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Shelley Memorial Award. Kunitz has served as the State Poet of New York and as Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in Provincetown, MA and taught many years in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.
May is National Poetry Month. Hosted by Guides Bob Holman & Margery Snyder, the About Guides invite you to celebrate at the About National Poetry Month Special.
On the following page, is a list of persons who have held the Library of Congress Poetry Position, or Poet Laureate since 1937.