It’s National Poetry Month, and this week we are exploring U.S. Poets Laureate and their changing roles over the years.
The position of poet laureate of the United States is somewhat different from that of Britain, where the title was first established in the 17th century. Whereas the British office renders the laureate a salaried member of the British royal household, the United States poet laureate acts as the chair of poetry for the Library of Congress.*
In the U.S., the poet laureate is charged with raising “the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” The poet is chosen yearly by the Librarian of Congress. The position was instituted in 1937 as the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress and was held by 30 poets before an act of Congress in 1985 changed the name to poet laureate.**
There have been 52 Poets Laureate. Here are a few notable poets to explore:
Robert Penn Warren (Laureate 1944-45 and 1986-1987) – Best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction All the Kings Men, Warren was also regarded as one of the best poets of his generation. His works were often inspired by Southern history and Southern life.
Gwendolyn Brooks (Laureate 1985-1986) – Gwendolyn Brooks was a highly regarded poet with the distinction of being the first African-American author to win the Pulitzer Prize and the first black woman to hold the position of Poet Laureate. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period.
Billy Collins (Laureate 2001-2003) – Dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself.
- *”Poets Laureate of the United States.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1789232/Poets-Laureate-of-the-United-States>.
- **poet laureate. (2013). In The Columbia Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/columency/poet_laureate