Tutt Library Research Guides
The books listed below are a selection from poets who have each served as National Poet Laureate. For more information about Natasha Trethewey, the current U.S. Poet Laureate, go to the Library of Congress website.
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.
The Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and serves from October to May. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with former appointees, the current Laureate and distinguished poetry critics. The position has existed under two separate titles: from 1937 to 1986 as "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress" and from 1986 forward as "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry." The name was changed by an act of Congress in 1985.
The Laureate receives a $35,000 annual stipend funded by a gift from Archer M. Huntington. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties in order to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. The Laureate gives an annual lecture and reading of his or her poetry and usually introduces poets in the Library's annual poetry series, the oldest in the Washington area, and among the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s. Collectively the Laureates have brought more than 2,000 poets and authors to the Library to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg in the Library's Whittall Pavilion,
May 2, 1960
Those interested in reading a more detailed history of the poetry consultantship at the Library of Congress should refer to William McGuire'sPoetry's Catbird Seat: The Consultantship in Poetry in the English Language at the Library of Congress, 1937-1987 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1988. http://lccn.loc.gov/87033876).
Each Laureate brings a different emphasis to the position. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Maxine Kumin started a popular series of poetry workshops for women at the Library of Congress. Gwendolyn Brooks met with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Rita Dove brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists. She also championed children's poetry and jazz with poetry events. Robert Hass organized the "Watershed" conference that brought together noted novelists, poets and storytellers to talk about writing, nature and community.
Information from the Library of Congress
Image from Public Radio Exchange
Philip Levine, Recent Poet Laureate
PHILIP LEVINE was born in Detroit in 1928, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, and educated at Wayne University (now Wayne State), the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Stanford University. He is the author of twenty collections of poetry, and his honors include the Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Awards, and two National Book Critic Circle Awards.
On August 10, 2011, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the appointment of Philip Levine as the 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. In a statement announcing the appointment, Dr. Billington said:
Philip Levine is one of America’s great narrative poets. His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth’—about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives.
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Poet Laureate for 2012 - 2013 is Natasha Tretheway.
Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on April 26, 1966. She is the author of four poetry collections and a book of creative non-fiction. Her honors include the Pulitzer Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
On 7 June 2012 James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, named her the 19th US Poet Laureate. Billington said, after hearing her poetry at the National Book Festival, that he was "“immediately struck by a kind of classic quality with a richness and variety of structures with which she presents her poetry … she intermixes her story with the historical story in a way that takes you deep into the human tragedy of it." Newspapers noted that unlike most poet laureates, Trethewey is in the middle of her career. She will also be the first laureate to take up residence in Washington, D.C. when she does so in January 2013.
Read about Natasha Trethewey and find her poetry at:
See the New York Times Topics Page on Natasha Trethewey.
In addition to the National Poet Laureate, many states honor their best poet with a title and the position of State Poet Laureate. The most recent poet to represent Colorado is David Mason, who teaches at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.