A poet laureate (plural: poets laureate) is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. Albertino Mussato of Padua and Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) of Arezzo were the first to be crowned poets laureate after the classical age, respectively in 1315 and 1342. In Britain, the term dates from the appointment of Bernard André by Henry VII of England. The royal office of Poet Laureate in England dates from the appointment of John Dryden in 1668.
In modern times a poet laureate title may be conferred by an organization such as the Poetry Foundation, which designates a Young People's Poet Laureate, unconnected with the National Youth Poet Laureate and the United States Poet Laureate.
The office is also popular with regional and community groups. Examples include the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate, 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), the Northampton Poet Laureate chosen by the Northampton Arts Council, 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 derives from the ancient myth of Daphne and Apollo (Daphne signifying "laurel" in Greek), and was revived in Padua for Albertino Mussato, followed by Petrarch's own crowning ceremony in the audience hall of the medieval senatorial palazzo on the Campidoglio on April 8, 1341. 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.
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.
Australia has no official poet laureate scheme, despite past suggestions. In 1818, former convict Michael Massey Robinson was paid by colony governor Lachlan Macquarie for services as poet laureate. Over the years, other poets have been nominated as worthy of such a title, including James Brunton Stephens (1835–1902), Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson (1864–1941), and Les Murray (1938–2019).
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.
Poets Laureate of Dominican Republic include: Pedro Mir (1984).
Poets Laureate of Nazi Germany include: Hanns Johst from 1935 to 1946.
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 (died 1951) and was a conservative figure among the modernists.
The closest modern 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 Tsead Bruinja as Dichter des Vaderlands (Poet of the Fatherland). The previous laureate was Ester Naomi Perquin. Gerrit Komrij was the first Dichter des Vaderlands. The title was created by Dutch media.
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), Selina Tusitala Marsh (2017-2019), and David Eggleton (2019-2021).
Poets Laureate of Nigeria include: Obo Aba Hisanjani.
Beginning around 1994, North Korea had 6 active poets laureate who worked in the epic genre. 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. Some of the poets are Jang Jin-sung (pseudonym), Kim Man-young and Shin Byung-gang.
Poets laureate of Sierra Leone include the Italian authors Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau.
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"
In England, the term "poet laureate" is restricted 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 modern annual salary is £5,750. On 10 May 2019 Simon Armitage was appointed after the end of Carol Ann Duffy's ten-year tenure.
There are other, non-official, laureate titles, such as the commercially sponsored "Children's Laureate" for an "eminent writer or illustrator of children's books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field", and the Poetry Foundation's Young People'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 February 16, 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. Jackie Kay was announced as the third holder of this post in 2016.
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
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.
Poets laureate 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, and which is available in streaming audio and video. The original intent of the stipend was to provide poets laureate with a full income, so that they could devote their time entirely to writing poetry. The amount has not been adjusted for inflation and is now considered a moderate bonus intended to supplement a poet's already existing income. Most Poets Laureate earn the bulk of their income through university employment.
Joy Harjo is the current poet laureate. Previous poets laureate include Tracy K. Smith (two terms), 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 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. Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in March 2012.
- Kern County’s first poet laureate was chosen in 2016: Don Thompson.
- Lake County’s first poet laureate, Jim Lyle, was chosen in 1998.
- Marin County’s first Poet Laureate was appointed in 2008: Albert Flynn DeSilver
- Napa County’s first poet laureate was appointed in 2002: Dorothy Lee Hansen.
- San Mateo County’s first poet laureate was appointed in 2014: Caroline Goodwin. She was followed by Lisa Rosenberg in 2017 and Aileen Casinetto in 2019.
- Santa Clara County appointed its first Poet Laureate in 2009: Nils Peterson
- Albany chose its first poet laureate, Christina Hutchins, in 2008.
- Anaheim selected its first poet laureate, Grant Hier, in 2018.
- Benicia appointed its first poet laureate in 2006, Joel Fallon. He was followed by Robert Shelby, Ronna Leon, Lois Requist, Don Peery, Johanna Ely, and Tom Stanton.
- Berkeley selected its first Poet Laureate in 2017: Rafael Jesús González Before this, in 2004, Julia Vinograd had been recognised officially as Berkeley's unofficial poet laureate.
- Cupertino's first Poet Laureate, Dave Denny, was selected in 2010. The current Poet Laureate is Kaecey McCormick.
- El Cerrito selected its first poet laureate, Maw Shein Win in summer 2016.
- East Palo Alto’s Poet Laureate is Kalamu Chaché.
- Fresno selected James Tyner as its first poet laureate in 2013. In 2015, Lee Herrick was named the second poet laureate. The current poet laureate, selected in 2017, is Bryan Medina.
- Livermore’s first poet laureate was Connie Post
- Los Angeles selected its first poet laureate, Eloise Klein Healy, in December 2012.
- Richmond's poet laureate program began in 2004 with three laureates: Brenda Quintanilla (student), Donte Clark (non-senior adult), Lincoln Bergman (senior).
- Sacramento's first poets laureate were Dennis Schmitz and Viola Weinberg, who served two years beginning in 2000.
- San Francisco's first poet laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was selected in 1998. He was followed by Janice Mirikitani, Devorah Major, Jack Hirschman, Diane di Prima, and Alejandro Murguía. The current poet laureate is Kim Shuck.
- Santa Barbara's first poet laureate was Barry Spacks, appointed in 2005. He was followed by Perie Longo, David Starkey, Paul Willis, Chryss Yost, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, Enid Osborn, and Laure-Anne Bosselaar. The current poet laureate is Emma Trelles.
- Vallejo’s first poet laureate was Genea Brice appointed in 2015, followed by D.L. Lang in 2017, and Jeremy Snyder currently holds the position.
Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills—twin brothers who are known as the "Twin Poets"—were appointed 17th Poets Laureate of the State of Delaware on December 13, 2015. According to the Library of Congress, they are the first co-laureates appointed by a state and the first siblings to share the position.
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. The Illinois poet laureate since 2003 has been Kevin Stein.
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 current Poet Laureate of Maryland is Grace Cavalieri.
Sam Cornish was appointed the first Boston poet laureate in 2008, succeeded in 2015 by Danielle Legros Georges.
Stephan Delbos was appointed the first poet laureate of Plymouth, MA. in 2020.
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.
In 1963, Governor Ross Barnett appointed Mississippi's first Poet Laureate, Maude Willard Leet Prenshaw. In 1973, Louise Moss Montgomery was named laureate by Gov. William Waller. Gov. Cliff Finch appointed Winifred Hamrick Farrar laureate in 1978. All three poets laureate served lifetime terms. Beginning in 2012, Mississippi poets laureate now serve four-year terms. Natasha Tretheway served as the Poet Laureate of Mississippi from 2012 to 2016. On August 10, 2016, Beth Ann Fennelly assumed the position.
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. Kari Gunter-Seymour is the current Poet Laureate of Ohio, her term began on June 10, 2020.
"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. Margaret Britton Vaughn is the current Poet Laureate, she is serving her lifetime appointment since 1999.
The state of Texas established a Poet Laureate in 1932 (historical list of Texas poets laureate). The term as of 2016 is one year.
In April 2012, San Antonio became the first Texas city to appoint a Poet Laureate, Carmen Tafolla. The San Antonio Poet Laureate serves a two-year term. Laurie Ann Guerrero was appointed on April 1, 2014.
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 current Poet Laureate in Utah is Paisley Rekdal, appointed by Governor Gary Herbert in May 2017.
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. The current Poet Laureate is Luisa A. Igloria.
The current Poet Laureate of Wisconsin is Dasha Kelly Hamilton, 2021–2022
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