State Poets Laureate: Widely Instated

Fomer U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins

Billy Collins has served as both U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03) and New York State Poet (2004-06).

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.

Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair at the 2011 National Book Festival.

Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair at the 2011 National Book Festival. Photo by Charlynn Pyne.

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.

4 Comments

  1. Mary Dimon Riley
    February 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Someone told me that an old friend ( from
    childhood, Roger Finch, had become Maine’s
    State Poet Laureate. Was this in a former
    year, or were they confused?

  2. Edmund
    February 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    The discussion above was very interesting. It seems to me that most authors who like to write poetry, have no idea of how anyone can get any acclaim. Most just like to write. I am interested in getting something in the 180 poems for high school students. I wonder when they accept poems for that.

    Edmund

  3. Peter Armenti
    March 5, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Edmund, new poems are not currently being considered for addition to the Library’s Poetry 180 Web site (//www.loc.gov/poetry/180/). However, if you would like to learn about other possible venues for publishing your poetry, please contact the Poetry Office through its Ask a Librarian Web form at //www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-poetry.html and I’ll be happy to provide some suggestions for getting started.

    -Peter Armenti

  4. Peter Armenti
    March 5, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Mary, the non-profit organization Amy Kitchener’s Angels Without Wings Foundation holds an annual Senior Poets Laureate Competition in which winners are selected for each state. Roger Finch was named Maine’s Senior Poet Laureate by the foundation in 2011. This position is distinct from the Maine Poet Laureate position (//www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/maine.html) appointed by the governor of Maine.

    -Peter Armenti

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