New exhibit celebrates the 80-year history of the U.S. Poet Laureate

Collection items of Poets Laureate past and present are displayed in agile cases in the Jefferson Building, April 8, 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Collection items of Poets Laureate past and present are displayed in agile cases in the Jefferson Building, April 8, 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

From the Catbird Seat is pleased to announce a new poetry display at the Library launched to coincide with National Poetry Month. The display, titled Poetry on High: 80 Years of Poets Laureate, is designed to celebrate and commemorate the history and 80th anniversary of the position of U.S. Poet Laureate. It can be viewed in the North Gallery of the Library’s Great Hall.

Through books, manuscripts, photographs, magnetic reels, and other fascinating items, the display documents the origins and evolution of the Laureateship, which has existed under two separate titles during its history. Initially charged with building the Library’s literary collections and encouraging their public use, Poets Laureate now work towards the broader goal of raising national awareness and a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry, often through large-scale poetry projects.

Elizabeth Bishop writing at her desk in the Library’s Poetry Office, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, c. 1949-1950.

Elizabeth Bishop writing at her desk in the Library’s Poetry Office, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, circa 1949-1950. Office of Communications.

In addition to documenting the history of the position, the display features two poems about the U.S. Capitol, one written by the 8th Consultant in Poetry (as the position was originally known), Elizabeth Bishop, and the other written by the 8th Poet Laureate, Rita Dove. Bishop’s poem, “A View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress,” was inspired by her view from the Poetry Office, and you can listen to Bishop read the poem (skip to 03:20) through the Library’s online Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Dove’s poem, “Lady Freedom Among Us,” was recited by Dove when the renovated Statue of Freedom returned to the Capitol’s dome in 1993.

The display was created by Abby Yochelson, Andrew Gaudio, and Peter Armenti in the Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Division, and includes materials from the Library’s Manuscript Division, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Serial and Government Publications Division, Poetry and Literature Center, and General Collections. The exhibit runs through June 30, 2016.

If you plan to visit the Library during the next few months, we hope you’ll stop by Poetry on High to explore some of the wonderful, and rarely seen, items about our Poets Laureate on display.

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