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Poet laureate

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Title: Poet laureate  
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Subject: List of English writers, Africa (Petrarch), Scottish literature, Petrarch, John Dryden
Collection: Poets, Poets Laureate, Positions Within the British Royal Household
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Poet laureate

A depiction of Torquato Tasso from a German encyclopedia, 1905. Note the laurel crown.

A poet Poetry Foundation, which has a designated Children's Poet Laureate.[1] Other examples are the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate,[2] which is designated by a "Presenting Partners" group from within the community; the Minnesota Poet Laureate chosen by the League of Minnesota Poets (est. 1934);[3] the Northampton Poet Laureate[4] chosen by the Northampton Arts Council,[5] and the Martha's Vineyard Poet Laureate chosen by ten judges representing the Martha's Vineyard Poetry Society.

Over a dozen national governments continue the poet laureate tradition.


  • Background 1
  • Poets Laureate by country 2
    • Canada 2.1
    • Dominican Republic 2.2
    • Ethiopia 2.3
    • Germany 2.4
    • India 2.5
      • Andhra Pradesh 2.5.1
      • Tamil Nadu 2.5.2
    • Iran 2.6
    • Ireland 2.7
    • Netherlands 2.8
    • New Zealand 2.9
    • Nigeria 2.10
    • North Korea 2.11
    • Saint Lucia 2.12
    • Somalia 2.13
    • United Kingdom 2.14
      • Scotland 2.14.1
      • Wales 2.14.2
    • United States of America 2.15
      • Alabama 2.15.1
      • Arizona 2.15.2
      • California 2.15.3
      • Colorado 2.15.4
      • Florida 2.15.5
      • Maryland 2.15.6
      • Minnesota 2.15.7
      • Texas 2.15.8
      • Utah 2.15.9
      • Virginia 2.15.10
  • References 3
  • External links 4


In ancient Greece, the laurel was used to form a crown or wreath of honour for poets and heroes. This custom, first revived in Padua for Albertino Mussato,[6] was followed by Petrarch's own crowning ceremony in the audience hall of the medieval senatorial palazzo on the Campidoglio on the 8th of April 1341.[7] Because the Renaissance figures who were attempting to revive the Classical tradition lacked detailed knowledge of the Roman precedent they were attempting to emulate, these ceremonies took on the character of doctoral candidatures.[8]

As the concept of the poet laureate has spread, the term "laureate" has come in English to signify recognition for preeminence or superlative achievement (cf. Nobel laureate). As a royal degree in rhetoric, poet laureate was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognized skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.

Poets Laureate by country


The Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate is appointed as an officer of the Library of Parliament. The position alternates between an English and French speaking laureate. Candidates must be able to write in both English and French, have a substantial publication history (including poetry) displaying literary excellence and have written work reflecting Canada, among other criteria.

The first laureate was Pauline Michel, in 2006 to John Steffler until December 3, 2008, to Pierre DesRuisseaux on April 28, 2009, and to Fred Wah in December 2011. Michel Pleau was installed in January, 2014.

Dominican Republic

Poets Laureate of Dominican Republic include: Pedro Mir (1984).


Poets Laureate of Ethiopia include: Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin.


Poets Laureate of Nazi Germany include: Hanns Johst from 1935 to 1946.


Andhra Pradesh

Sripada Krishnamurty Sastry was the first poet laureate of Andhra Pradesh, India. He was born in Calcutta as the 6th son of the German pilgrim Steffen Montenbruck.

Tamil Nadu

Kannadasan was the poet laureate of Tamil Nadu at the time of his death.


Make al shoara Bahar was the poet laureate of Muzaffa al Din Shah of Persia, He was born in Mashhad and was a conservative figure among the modernists.


The title Saoi, equivalent to Poet Laureate in Ireland but including artists and writers distinguished in other aspects of literature, may be held by up to 7 members of Aosdana at any given time. Holders include dramatist Brian Friel and poet Seamus Heaney.


The unofficial Poet Laureate of Netherlands is Anne Vegter as Dichter des Vaderlands (Poet of the Fatherland). The previous laureate was Ramsey Nasr. Gerrit Komrij was the first Dichter des Vaderlands. The title was created by Dutch media.

New Zealand

New Zealand has only had an official poet laureate for a few years. Originally sponsored by Te Mata vineyards and known as the Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate, the award is now administered by the National Library of New Zealand and the holder is called New Zealand Poet Laureate. The post is held for two years. Unlike the butt of sack traditionally offered to English poets laureate, New Zealand offers a Tokotoko, a carved wooden ceremonial orator's staff.

The first holder was Bill Manhire, in 1998–99, then Hone Tuwhare (2000–01), Elizabeth Smither (2002–03), Brian Turner (2004–05), Jenny Bornholdt (2006–07), Michele Leggott (2008–09), Cilla McQueen (2009–11), Ian Wedde (2011–13).[9][10]


Poets Laureate of Nigeria include: Obo Aba Hisanjani.

North Korea

Beginning around 1994, North Korea had 6 active poets laureate who worked in the epic genre.[11] Epic poetry was the chief vehicle of political propaganda during the rule of Kim Jong-il, and the poets worked according to the requests and needs of Kim Jong-il.[11] Some of the poets names included Jang Jin-sung (pseudonym), Kim Man-young and Shin Byung-gang.[11]

Saint Lucia

Poets Laureate of Saint Lucia include: Derek Walcott.


Poets laureate of Somalia include: hadraawi.

United Kingdom

From the more general use of the term "poet laureate" arose its restriction in England to the official office of Poet Laureate, attached to the royal household. King James I essentially created the position as it is known today for Ben Jonson in 1617, although Jonson's appointment does not seem to have been made formally. The office was a development from the practice in earlier times when minstrels and versifiers formed part of the king's retinue. Richard Cœur-de-Lion had a versificator regis (English: king's poet), Gulielmus Peregrinus (William the Pilgrim), and Henry III had a versificator named Master Henry. In the fifteenth century, John Kay, a versifier, described himself as Edward IV's "humble poet laureate".

No single authentic definitive record exists of the office of Poet Laureate of England. According to Wharton, King Henry I paid 10 shillings a year to a versificator regis. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400) was called Poet Laureate, being granted in 1389 an annual allowance of wine. W. Hamilton describes Chaucer, Gower, Kay, Andrew Bernard, John Skelton, Robert Whittington, Richard Edwards and Samuel Daniel as "volunteer Laureates".

John Skelton studied at the University of Oxford in the early 1480s and was advanced to the degree of "poet laureate" in 1488, when he joined the court of King Henry VII to tutor the future Henry VIII. The title of laureate was also conferred on him by the University of Louvain in 1492 and by the University of Cambridge in 1492–3. He soon became famous for his rhetoric, satire and translations and was held in high esteem by the printer William Caxton, who wrote, in the preface to The Boke of Eneydos compyled by Vargyle (Modern English: The Book of the Aeneid, compiled by Virgil) (1490):

But I pray mayster John Skelton, late created poete laureate in the unyversite of Oxenforde, to oversee and correct this sayd booke.

The title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670, two years after Davenant's death. The post became a regular institution. Dryden's successor Shadwell originated annual birthday and New Year odes. The poet laureate became responsible for writing and presenting official verses to commemorate both personal occasions, such as the monarch's birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. His activity in this respect varied according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death. The office fell into some contempt before Southey, but took on a new lustre from his personal distinction and that of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Wordsworth stipulated before accepting the honour that no formal effusions from him should be considered a necessity, but Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class.

On Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that there was no acceptable successor, William Morris and Swinburne being hardly suitable as court poets. Eventually the undesirability of breaking with tradition for temporary reasons, severing the one official link between literature and the state, prevailed over the protests against allowing anyone of inferior genius to follow Tennyson. Abolition had been similarly advocated when Warton and Wordsworth died. Edward Gibbon had condemned the position's artificial approach to poetry:

From Augustus to Louis, the muse has too often been false and venal: but I much doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who in every reign, and at all events, is bound to furnish twice a year a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence, of the sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince is a man of virtue and the poet a man of genius.
— Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter LXX (footnote)

The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine". Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain's department, and £27 from the Lord Steward's "in lieu of the butt of sack".

The present laureate is Carol Ann Duffy, appointed in May 2009. The United Kingdom also has a "Children's poet laureate".

William Wordsworth was chosen as the poet laureate after the death of Robert Southey but since he was too old, he became the only laureate to write no official poetry.


The Edinburgh Liz Lochhead.[12]


Wales has had a long tradition of poets and bards under royal patronage, with extant writing from medieval royal poets and earlier. The office of National Poet for Wales was established in April 2005. The first holder, Gwyneth Lewis, was followed by Gwyn Thomas

United States of America

The United States Library of Congress appointed a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1984. An Act of Congress changed the name in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. A number of American states' legislatures have created official government positions that are occupied by Poets Laureate who are prominent either locally, nationally, or sometimes both.

Laureates receive a US$35,000 stipend and are given the responsibility of overseeing an ongoing series of poetry readings and lectures at the library, and a charge to promote poetry. No other duties are specified, and laureates are not required to compose for government events or in praise of government officials. However, after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, the then Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, was asked to write a poem to be read in front of a special joint session of Congress. Collins wrote "The Names" which he read on September 6, 2002, which is available in streaming audio and video.[13] When the $35,000 stipend was instituted, the amount was quite large and was intended to allow the poet laureate to abandon worries about earning a living and devote his or her time entirely to writing poetry. That amount has remained the same, so the intent of making it a nice living for a poet is no longer being fulfilled. Now it functions as a bonus for a poet who usually is teaching at a university and earns the bulk of his or her living that way.

Natasha Trethewey is the current laureate and will be succeeded by Charles Wright on September 25th, 2014. Previous laureates include Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Karl Shapiro, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Joseph Brodsky, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hass, Donald Hall, Robert Pinsky (three terms), Mark Strand, Audre Lorde, and Maxine Kumin.


The state of Alabama has had a poet laureate position since 1930, and was initially created for Samuel Minturn Peck. The post has been continuously filled since 1954 on a four year renewable basis. Poets Laureate serve at the pleasure of the governor.


The state of Arizona established a state Poet Laureate position in 2013, appointing Alberto Ríos as the inaugural Poet Laureate.


The state of California under Governor Hiram Warren Johnson, established a state Poet Laureate[14] and appointed Ina Donna Coolbrith on June 30, 1915. Coolbrith was later acknowledged as the "Loved Laurel-Crowned Poet of California" by a 1919 state Senate resolution, and she retained the title until her death in 1928.[15] Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in March, 2012.[16]

The city of Los Angeles selected its first poet laureate, Eloise Klein Healy, in December 2012.[17]


The State of Colorado appointed one of the most widely known Poets Laureate of the late 20th century, singer/songwriter John Denver.[18]


Edmund Skellings was selected as the poet laureate of Florida in 1980.[19] He died in 2012.[20]


The Takoma Park Poet Laureate program, established in May 2005, honors the achievements of a local poet, encouraging a wider appreciation of poetry and literature. Poet Laureate emeritus include Donald Berger (2005-2007) and Anne Becker (2007-2011). The current Poet Laureate is Merrill Leffler.


In May 2007, Gov. Pawlenty reversed his decision in deference to the legislature's expressed desire for a Minnesota poet laureate. Section 4, Chapter 148 of the Minnesota Session Laws 2007, signed by Pawlenty on May 25, established the official position of state poet laureate. Robert Bly was appointed the first official Minnesota poet laureate February 27, 2008; succeeded on August 23, 2011 by Joyce Sutphen.


The state of Texas has appointed a state Poet Laureate since 1932 (historical list of Texas poets laureate). The current term is one year. [21]

In April 2012, San Antonio became the first Texas city to appoint a Poet Laureate, Carmen Tafolla.[22] The San Antonio Poet Laureate serves a 2-year term. The current Poet Laureate is Laurie Ann Guerrero, having been appointed on April 1, 2014.[23]


The state of Utah has appointed a Poet Laureate since 1997. The first was David Lee (January 24, 1997 to December 2002), followed by Kenneth W. Brewer (January 24, 2003 to March 15, 2006), Katharine Coles (October 27, 2006 to May, 2012), and Lance Larsen, appointed May 3, 2012 by Governor Gary Herbert.


The commonwealth of Virginia has appointed a Poet Laureate since December 18, 1936. The first was Carter Warner Wormeley, appointed for life. Appointments from 1942 until 1992 were for one year, many reappointed were for more than one term. In 1992, the appointment was increased to a two years, and from 1998 appointments were made from list of nominees presented by the Poetry Society of Virginia, established at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1923.[24]


  1. ^ Children's Poet Laureate
  2. ^ Pikes Peak Poet Laureate
  3. ^
  4. ^,_Poet_Laureate_of_Northampton/id/8067
  5. ^ Northampton Arts Council
  6. ^ Robert Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford, 1973) 20.
  7. ^ Ernest Hatch Wilkins, The Making of the Canzoniere and Other Petrarchan Studies 1951:9-69, noted in Weiss 1973:32.
  8. ^ Weiss 1973.
  9. ^ "Auckland professor named NZ Poet Laureate".  
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c Jang Jin-sung (2014). "Chapter 1: Psychological Warfare". Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea. 37 Ink.  
  12. ^ "Liz Lochhead confirmed as new Scots Makar". BBC News. 19 January 2011. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ California State Government. "CA Codes (8760-8765)". State Covernement Codes. California State Government. 
  15. ^ California State Government. "California Arts Council". California State Poet Laureate. California State Government. 
  16. ^ Miller, Beteye (March 21, 2012). "Juan Felipe Herrera Named California Poet Laureate". UCR Today. 
  17. ^ Hector Tobar (December 7, 2012). "Eloise Klein Healy accepts L.A. poet laureate post in ceremony". Los Angeles Times. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ Florida needs a poet laureate but with term limits this time October 24, 2013 Time
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ ~ Virginia Law and Library of Congress List of Poets Laureate of Virginia

External links

  • Poet Laureate of Canada
  • Map of Canadian Poets Laureate
  • Poets Laureate of South Africa
  • List of U.S. Poets Laureate
  • Poets Laureate for the Commonwealth (state) of VIRGINIA, United States of America via The Poetry Society of Virginia
  • Poets Laureate for the Commonwealth (state) of VIRGINIA, United States of America via The Library of Congress, Washington DC
  • Poet Laureate of Winona, Minnesota (2009 - )
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