Delaware’s poetry lovers could be excused for doing a double take Wednesday evening. After all, Governor Jack Markell had just made an unprecedented announcement: identical twins Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills, known as the Twin Poets, would share the title of 17th Poets Laureate of the State of Delaware. The appointment marks the first time in the 68-year history of the position that Delaware will have co-laureates, and the first time in the history of U.S. state poets laureate that such a position will be shared by siblings. The Twin Poets replace Delaware’s previous poet laureate JoAnn Balingit, who retired on December 1 after serving for more than seven years.
The central mission of state poets usually involves promoting the reading, writing, and appreciation of poetry and the literary arts among the general public, though as a 2014 New York Times article notes, the specific ways state poets accomplish this broad mission vary widely. Chukwuocha and Mills, known for their spoken word poetry, plan to emphasize the transformative potential of poetry within local communities. Their ideas, enumerated in a press release on their appointment, include:
- Incorporating poetry/ spoken word and creative writing programming into schools, libraries and community centers.
- Introducing poetry as a tool for transformation within youth detention centers and adult correctional facilities.
- Utilizing the poetic art form to strengthen the healing and support process for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD.
- Taking poetry/spoken word and creative writing into communities of need to assist with addressing gun violence.
For more on the Twin Poets and their lifelong commitment to poetry, read Christopher Yasiejko’s excellent profile of Chukwuocha and Mills on the Delaware Division of the Arts website.
When I first heard about the appointment of the Twin Poets, I decided to look into whether any poets from other states have served as co-laureates. While I found no recent examples, I did learn that prior to 1990, the Poet Laureate of Kentucky was appointed by the Kentucky General Assembly to a lifetime term, and several poets held the position simultaneously. Beyond Kentucky, Indiana maintains both an official and unofficial state Poet Laureate program, but these programs are completely separate. And at the national level, while the Library of Congress itself appointed three Special Consultants (Rita Dove, W. S. Merwin, and Louise Glück) to assist with the poetry programs of its Bicentennial Year (2000), this position was distinct from the official position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.
Naming joint poets laureate is a bit more common at the city and county level—it’s happened in Racine, Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin; Prince William County, Virginia; Havre de Grace, Maryland; Sacramento, California; Volusia County, Florida; and surely elsewhere (if you’re aware of other instances, let us know in the comments below!).
While Delaware’s appointment of the Twin Poets has grabbed recently headlines, since my last state poets update in October three other states now have new poets laureate, and two other states plan to inaugurate new laureates on New Year’s Day. Here’s a rundown of the latest developments:
- Michael Earl Craig was appointed Montana Poet Laureate on October 23;
- Charles DeNiord began his term as Vermont Poet Laureate on November 2;
- Dana Gioia was appointed Poet Laureate of California December 4;
- Shari Wagner will begin her term as the official Indiana State Poet Laureate on January 1;
- and just yesterday, Amit Majmudar was appointed Ohio’s first poet laureate. He will begin serving in the position on January 1, 2016.
With so many recent and forthcoming position changes, I can only conclude that ’tis truly the season for state poets laureate!
To find a complete list of U.S. state poets, and to learn more about each state’s laureateship, you can explore our state poets map. Click on the image of the map to be brought to an interactive version; you can use its drop-down menu to browse the list of current laureates.