In a recent post I discussed the history of the U.S. poet laureateship. What I didn’t mention, however, is that the job title “Poet Laureate” isn’t restricted to this national position: many U.S. states, counties, cities, and other jurisdictions have created analogous Poet Laureate positions at the local level. In fact, more than twenty years before the position of Consultant in Poetry was established, California became the first state to select its own Poet Laureate, Ina Coolbrith. At the time of this writing, forty states have an official position of State Poet Laureate, while two states, Alaska and Idaho, have a position for “State Writer Laureate” and “Writer-in-Residence,” respectively. The position of State Poet Laureate or State Writer is occupied in thirty-eight of these forty-two states.
While the specifics of each state’s poet laureateship—term length, stipend, and responsibilities—differ, the overarching goal of each position is usually to increase the visibility and appreciation of poetry among the public. The Library of Congress has supported the activities of State Poets Laureate by organizing State Poet readings both on-site and at the National Book Festival. At the 2011 Book Festival, for instance, a State Poets Laureate mini-pavilion featured readings by four state poets—Wesley McNair (Maine), Kelly Cherry (Virginia), Stanley Plumly (Maryland), and Carol Muske-Dukes (California)—and Dolores Kendrick, the Poet Laureate of Washington, D.C.
Since detailed information about State Poets isn’t aggregated elsewhere, the Library of Congress has created a guide to State Poets Laureate that includes a list of current State Poets, historical information about each state’s Poet Laureate program, and frequently asked questions about the history of State Poets Laureate.
From the Catbird Seat plans to regularly update its readers on changes in State Poet Laureate positions. Most recently, the position of West Virginia Poet Laureate became vacant due to the February 4th passing of Irene McKinney, who served as the state’s laureate for 18 years.