Poet laureate

A poet laureate (plural: poets laureates) is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. The Italians Albertino Mussato and Francesco Petrarca were the first to be crowned poets laureate after the classical age, respectively in 1315 and 1342.[1] In Britain, the term dates from the appointment of Bernard André by Henry VII of England, and the royal office dates from the appointment of John Dryden in 1668.

In modern times, the title may be conferred by an organization such as the Poetry Foundation, which has a designated Children's Poet Laureate.[2]

The office is also popular with regional and community groups. Examples include the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate,[3] which is designated by a "Presenting Partners" group from within the community, the Minnesota Poet Laureate chosen by the League of Minnesota Poets (est. 1934),[4] the Northampton Poet Laureate[5] chosen by the Northampton Arts Council,[6] and the Martha's Vineyard Poet Laureate chosen by ten judges representing the Martha's Vineyard Poetry Society.

Over a dozen national governments continue the poet laureate tradition.


In ancient Greece, the laurel was used to form a crown or wreath of honour for poets and heroes. The custom was revived in Padua for Albertino Mussato,[7] followed by Petrarch's own crowning ceremony in the audience hall of the medieval senatorial palazzo on the Campidoglio on 8 April 1341.[8] Because the Renaissance figures who were attempting to revive the Classical tradition lacked detailed knowledge of the Roman precedent they were attempting to emulate, these ceremonies took on the character of doctoral candidatures.[9]

Since the office of poet laureate has become widely adopted, the term "laureate" has come to signify recognition for preeminence or superlative achievement (cf. Nobel laureate). A royal degree in rhetoric, poet laureate was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term therefore may refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognized skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.

By country


The Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate is appointed as an officer of the Library of Parliament. The position alternates between an English and French speaking laureate. Candidates must be able to write in both English and French, have a substantial publication history (including poetry) displaying literary excellence and have written work reflecting Canada, among other criteria.

The first laureate was George Bowering, in 2002. In 2004, the title was transferred to Pauline Michel, in 2006 to John Steffler until December 3, 2008, to Pierre DesRuisseaux on April 28, 2009, and to Fred Wah in December 2011. Michel Pleau was installed in January, 2014.

Dominican Republic

Poets Laureate of Dominican Republic include: Pedro Mir (1984).


Officially designated Laureate includes Tsegaye GebreMedhin. Tsegaye's award is made by the commissioned/established by His Majesty, Haile-Selasie II. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsegaye_Gabre-Medhin http://www.tsegaye.se/


Poets Laureate of Nazi Germany include: Hanns Johst from 1935 to 1946.


Andhra Pradesh

Sripada Krishnamurty Sastry was the first poet laureate of Andhra Pradesh, India.

Tamil Nadu

Kannadasan was the poet laureate of Tamil Nadu at the time of his death.


Malek o-Sho'arā Bahār was the poet laureate of Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar. He was born in Mashhad in 1884 (d. 1951) and was a conservative figure among the modernists.


The closest equivalent is the title Saoi ["wise one"] held by up to seven members at a time of Aosdána, an official body of those engaged in fine arts, literature, and music. Poets awarded the title include Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Anthony Cronin, and Seamus Heaney.


The unofficial Poet Laureate of Netherlands is Ester Naomi Perquin as Dichter des Vaderlands (Poet of the Fatherland). The previous laureate was Anne Vegter. Gerrit Komrij was the first Dichter des Vaderlands. The title was created by Dutch media.

New Zealand

New Zealand has had an official poet laureate since 1998. Originally sponsored by Te Mata vineyards and known as the Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate, the award is now administered by the National Library of New Zealand and the holder is called New Zealand Poet Laureate. The term of office is two years. The symbol of office is a Tokotoko, a carved wooden ceremonial orator's staff.

The first holder was Bill Manhire, in 1998–99, then Hone Tuwhare (2000–01), Elizabeth Smither (2002–03), Brian Turner (2004–05), Jenny Bornholdt (2006–07), Michele Leggott (2008–09), Cilla McQueen (2009–11), Ian Wedde (2011–13), Vincent O'Sullivan (2013–15), C. K. Stead (2015–2017), and Selina Tusitala Marsh (2017-present).[10][11]


Poets Laureate of Nigeria include: Obo Aba Hisanjani.

North Korea

Beginning around 1994, North Korea had 6 active poets laureate who worked in the epic genre.[12] Epic poetry was the chief vehicle of political propaganda during the rule of Kim Jong-il, and the poets worked according to the requests and needs of Kim Jong-il.[12] Some of the poets are Jang Jin-sung (pseudonym), Kim Man-young and Shin Byung-gang.[12]

Saint Lucia

Poets Laureate of Saint Lucia include: Derek Walcott.


Sierra Leone

Poets laureate of Sierra Leone include the Italian authors Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau.[17]


Poets laureate of Somalia include: Hadraawi.


Mehmet Akif Ersoy was the Poet-Laureate, born in 1873 and died on December 27, 1936, famous Turkish poet. He composed the poem to be the National Anthem of the Turkish Republic that written in 1921."Original name of the poem is İstiklal Marşı"

United Kingdom


The more general use of the term "poet laureate" is restricted in England to the official office of Poet Laureate, attached to the royal household. However, no authoritative historical record exists of the office of Poet Laureate of England.

The office developed from earlier practice when minstrels and versifiers were members of the king's retinue. Richard Cœur-de-Lion had a versificator regis (English: king's poet), Gulielmus Peregrinus (William the Pilgrim), and Henry III had a versificator named Master Henry. In the fifteenth century, John Kay, a versifier, described himself as Edward IV's "humble poet laureate".

According to Wharton, King Henry I paid 10 shillings a year to a versificator regis. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400) was called Poet Laureate, being granted in 1389 an annual allowance of wine. W. Hamilton describes Chaucer, Gower, Kay, Andrew Bernard, John Skelton, Robert Whittington, Richard Edwards and Samuel Daniel as "volunteer Laureates".

John Skelton studied at the University of Oxford in the early 1480s and was advanced to the degree of "poet laureate" in 1488, when he joined the court of King Henry VII to tutor the future Henry VIII. The title of laureate was also conferred on him by the University of Louvain in 1492 and by the University of Cambridge in 1492–3. He soon became famous for his rhetoric, satire and translations and was held in high esteem by the printer William Caxton, who wrote, in the preface to The Boke of Eneydos compyled by Vargyle (Modern English: The Book of the Aeneid, compiled by Virgil) (1490):

But I pray mayster John Skelton, late created poete laureate in the unyversite of Oxenforde, to oversee and correct this sayd booke.

The academic use of the term laureate became associated again with royalty when King James I created a pension for Ben Jonson in 1617, although there is no formal record extant. He was succeeded by William Davenant.

The royal office Poet Laureate was officially conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1668, after Davenant's death, and the post became a regular institution. Dryden's successor Shadwell originated annual birthday and New Year odes. The poet laureate became responsible for writing and presenting official verses to commemorate both personal occasions, such as the monarch's birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. His activity in this respect varied according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death. The office fell into some contempt before Robert Southey, but took on a new lustre from his personal distinction and that of successors Wordsworth and Tennyson. Wordsworth stipulated before accepting the honour that no formal effusions from him should be required. Due to his age, he became the only laureate to write no official poetry. Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class.

On Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that there was no acceptable successor. William Morris and Swinburne were hardly suitable as court poets. Eventually the undesirability of breaking the tradition for temporary reasons, and severing the one official link between literature and the state, prevailed over the protests against allowing someone of inferior genius to follow Tennyson. Abolition was similarly advocated when Warton and Wordsworth died.

Edward Gibbon condemned the position's artificial approach to poetry:

From Augustus to Louis, the muse has too often been false and venal: but I much doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who in every reign, and at all events, is bound to furnish twice a year a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence, of the sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince is a man of virtue and the poet a man of genius.

Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter LXX (footnote)

The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine". Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain's department, and £27 from the Lord Steward's "in lieu of the butt of sack".

The present laureate is Carol Ann Duffy, appointed in May 2009. The United Kingdom also has a "Children's poet laureate".


The Edinburgh Makar was traditionally seen as the unpaid equivalent of a poet laureate, tasked with representing and promoting poetry in Scotland. Since 2004, the Scottish Parliament has appointed an official Scots Makar, from the Makars of the various cities. On 16 February 2004, Professor Edwin Morgan was appointed to both the Edinburgh post and the national role. On his death he was succeeded (in January 2011) by Liz Lochhead.[18]


Wales has had a long tradition of poets and bards under royal patronage, with extant writing from medieval royal poets and earlier. The office of National Poet for Wales was established in April 2005. The first holder, Gwyneth Lewis, was followed by Gwyn Thomas

United States of America

The United States Library of Congress appointed a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1984. An Act of Congress changed the name in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

Laureates receive a US$35,000 stipend and are given the responsibility of overseeing an ongoing series of poetry readings and lectures at the library, and a charge to promote poetry. No other duties are specified, and laureates are not required to compose for government events or in praise of government officials. However, after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, the then-Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, was asked to write a poem to be read in front of a special joint session of Congress. Collins wrote "The Names" which he read on September 6, 2002, which is available in streaming audio and video.[19] When the $35,000 stipend was instituted, the amount was quite large and was intended to allow the poet laureate to abandon worries about earning a living and devote his or her time entirely to writing poetry. That amount has remained the same over time without having ever been adjusted for inflation, so the intent of making it a nice living for a poet is no longer being fulfilled. Now it functions essentially as a bonus for a poet who usually is teaching at a university and earns the bulk of his or her living that way.

Tracy K. Smith is the current laureate. Previous laureates include Juan Felipe Herrera, Philip Levine, W. S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Karl Shapiro, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Joseph Brodsky, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hass, Donald Hall, Robert Pinsky (three terms), Mark Strand, Audre Lorde, and Maxine Kumin.

A number of American state legislatures have also created an office of Poet Laureate. The holders may be locally or nationally prominent.


The office of Poet Laureate of Alabama was created for Samuel Minturn Peck in 1930. The post has been continuously filled since 1954 on a four-year renewable basis. Poets Laureate serve at the pleasure of the governor.


The state of Arizona established a state Poet Laureate position in 2013, appointing Alberto Ríos as the inaugural Poet Laureate.


The state of California established a state Poet Laureate under Governor Hiram Warren Johnson[20] and appointed Ina Donna Coolbrith on June 30, 1915. Coolbrith was later acknowledged as the "Loved Laurel-Crowned Poet of California" by a 1919 state Senate resolution, retaining the title until her death in 1928.[21] Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in March, 2012.[22]


The State of Colorado appointed one of the most popular Poets Laureate of the late 20th century, singer/songwriter writer John Denver.[31]


Edmund Skellings was selected as the poet laureate of Florida in 1980.[32] He died in 2012.[33]


Illinois appointed its first poet laureate, Howard Austin, in 1936, followed by Carl Sandburg (1962 - 1967), and Gwendolyn Brooks (1968 - 2000), all with lifetime appointments. The post is now a four-year renewable award.[34] The Illinois poet laureate since 2003 has been Kevin Stein.[35]


The position was created July 1, 1999 by Subchapter 303.89 of the Iowa Code with a two-year renewable term.[36]

Marvin Bell was Iowa's first poet laureate,[36] from 2000-2004.

Mary Swander was the poet laureate of Iowa as of April 2016.[36]


The city of Takoma Park Poet Laureate program, established in 2005, honors the achievements of a local poet, encouraging a wider appreciation of poetry and literature. Poet Laureate emeritus include Donald Berger (2005–2007) and Anne Becker (2007–2011). The Poet Laureate as of 2011 was Merrill Leffler.


Sam Cornish was appointed the first Boston poet laureate in 2008, succeeded in 2015 by Danielle Legros Georges.


In May 2007, Gov. Pawlenty reversed his opposition and signed Section 4, Chapter 148 of the Minnesota Session Laws 2007, establishing the state poet laureate. Robert Bly was appointed the first Minnesota poet laureate on February 27, 2008, succeeded on August 23, 2011 by Joyce Sutphen.


The state of Ohio created the position of Poet Laureate in 2014. Dr. Amit Majmudar of Dublin, Ohio was named the first state Poet Laureate by Gov. John Kasich, for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2016. Dave Lucas of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was appointed for the term January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2020. [37]


"Pek" Gunn, a native of Bold Spring, Tennessee and a close friend and politically ally of former Governor of Tennessee Frank Clement, was the first Tennessean given the title of State Poet Laureate, in the 1970s.


The state of Texas established a Poet Laureate in 1932 (historical list of Texas poets laureate). The term as of 2016 is one year.[38]

In April 2012, San Antonio became the first Texas city to appoint a Poet Laureate, Carmen Tafolla.[39] The San Antonio Poet Laureate serves a two-year term. Laurie Ann Guerrero was appointed on April 1, 2014.[40]


The state of Utah has appointed a Poet Laureate since 1997. The first was David Lee (January 24, 1997, to December 2002), followed by Ken Brewer (January 24, 2003, to March 15, 2006), Katharine Coles (October 27, 2006, to May, 2012), and Lance Larsen, appointed May 3, 2012, by Governor Gary Herbert.


The Commonwealth of Virginia has appointed a Poet Laureate since December 18, 1936. The first was Carter Warner Wormeley, appointed for life. Appointments from 1942 until 1992 were for one year, with many reappointed for multiple terms. In 1992, the term was increased to two years. Since 1998 appointments are made from list of nominees presented by the Poetry Society of Virginia, established at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1923.[41]


The current Poet Laureate of Wisconsin is Karla Huston, 2017-2018 [42]


Eugene Gagliano has been the Poet Laureate of Wyoming since July 2016. [43]


  1. Robert Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford, 1973);Ernest Hatch Wilkins, The Making of the Canzoniere and Other Petrarchan Studies 1951:9-69, noted in Weiss 1973:32.
  2. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/children/poet-laureate Children's Poet Laureate
  3. http://www.pikespeakpoetlaureate.org/current_poet.html Pikes Peak Poet Laureate
  4. http://www.mnpoets.com/poet-laureate/
  5. "www.northamptonartscouncil.org". Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  6. http://www.northamptonartscouncil.org/ Northampton Arts Council
  7. Robert Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford, 1973) 20.
  8. Ernest Hatch Wilkins, The Making of the Canzoniere and Other Petrarchan Studies 1951:9-69, noted in Weiss 1973:32.
  9. Weiss 1973.
  10. "Auckland professor named NZ Poet Laureate". The New Zealand Herald. 5 December 2007. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-01-06. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  12. 1 2 3 Jang Jin-sung (2014). "Chapter 1: Psychological Warfare". Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea. 37 Ink. ISBN 978-1476766553.
  13. Marko Živković (2011). Serbian Dreambook: National Imaginary in the Time of Milošević. Indiana University Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-253-22306-7.
  14. Nicholson Baker (9 October 2014). The Paul Chowder Chronicles: The Anthologist and Traveling Sprinkler, Two Novels. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-698-18173-1.
  15. Laurence Mitchell (2013). Serbia. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-84162-463-1.
  16. Charles A. Ward; Shashko, Philip; Donald E. Pienkos (1980). Studies in Ethnicity: The East European Experience in America. Boulder : East European Monographs ; New York. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-914710-67-7.
  17. Redazione. "La Sierra Leone conferisce a Roberto Malini e Dario Picciau le onorificenze di Poet Laureate e Artist Laureate". Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  18. "Liz Lochhead confirmed as new Scots Makar". BBC News. 19 January 2011.
  19. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/poems/july-dec02/names_9-06.html#
  20. California State Government. "CA Codes (8760-8765)". State Covernement Codes. California State Government.
  21. California State Government. "California Arts Council". California State Poet Laureate. California State Government. Archived from the original on 2013-07-26.
  22. Miller, Beteye (March 21, 2012). "Juan Felipe Herrera Named California Poet Laureate". UCR Today.
  23. http://kernarts.org/poet-laureate-2/
  24. Benjamin, Laurel (April 15, 2011). "Albany's First Poet Laureate Builds Lyrical Bridge Between City, Community". Albany Patch. Albany. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
  25. Radin, Rick (March 31, 2016). "El Cerrito plans to name first Poet Laureate". Mercury News. San Jose. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
  26. Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson (May 30, 2013). "Why Fresno Is The Land Of Poets". wbur: Boston's NPR Station.
  27. Herrick, Lee (August 27, 2015). "Lee Herrick: Fresno taught me to write, dream". The Fresno Bee.
  28. www.fresnobee.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/fresno-beehive/article147406804.html
  29. Hector Tobar (December 7, 2012). "Eloise Klein Healy accepts L.A. poet laureate post in ceremony". Los Angeles Times.
  30. Three poets laureate selected to represent Richmond over next two years. The Richmond Standard. July 14, 2014. Accessed May 11, 2016.
  31. "John Denver". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  32. "Florida's Poet Laureate". Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  33. Florida needs a poet laureate but with term limits this time October 24, 2013 Time
  34. https://www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/illinois.html
  35. https://www.illinois.gov/poetlaureate/Pages/bio.aspx
  36. 1 2 3 https://www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/iowa.html. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  37. http://www.oac.ohio.gov/grantsprogs/Guidelines/StaticPages/Ohio%20Poet%20Laureate%20-%20nomination%20guidelines.pdf
  38. "Texas Poets Laureate - TSLAC". Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  39. "Houston, San Antonio and McAllen Hire Poet Laureates". The Texas Observer. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  40. "San Antonio's New Poet Laureate: A Southside Writer Who 'Works With Her Hands' - The Rivard Report". The Rivard Report. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  41. https://www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/virginia.html ~ Virginia Law and Library of Congress List of Poets Laureate of Virginia
  42. https://www.wisconsinacademy.org/wisconsin-poet-laureate
  43. http://governor.wyo.gov/media/news-releases/2016-news-releases/governormeadappointseugenemgaglianoofbuffaloaspoetlaureate
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