A Crash Course in The American Poet Laureate Position

Most English, Creative Writing, and other students of the Humanities don’t find the possibility of a government job too appealing. Though art and politics are not mutually exclusive disciplines, “creative freedom” isn’t a term often thrown around in our bureaucracy.

Now allow me to introduce to you the finest government position ever conceived for creative minds: The Poet Laureate.

The idea of a national Poet Laureate extends back to Italy in the early 14th century, but the American office has only been around since the 1940s. Great minds including William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost have held this position, of which the sole work is to “raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry” (More information can be found by clicking here). The Poet Laureate receives a $35,000 stipend for the honor and maximum free time to work on his/her own projects while in the position. There are some formal duties to attend to, such as opening and closing the Library of Congress’ annual poetry series, but other than that, the Poet Laureate has total freedom in choosing the best way to get Americans to listen to and care about poetry.

America’s current Poet Laureate is Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winner Charles Wright. Distinguished as he is, I had never heard of Wright before conducting research on this topic, though I love what I’ve found from him so far. The relationship between nature and aging comes up quite a bit in Wright’s poetry, but always in unique ways. After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard is a darkly poignant example of Wright’s ability to synthesize the two topics with lines like “How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard” expressing the relative loneliness of aging. On the other hand, Wright is also deeply affected by the topic of faith, and lines such as “One knows/There is no end to the other world/no matter where it is” from Last Supper express the comfort that such faith can bring.

The American Poet Laureate has the great potential to change the way America as a whole thinks about the art form of poetry. Whether poetry is your thing or you find it too difficult to truly enjoy, any student of the written word should pay close attention to what the current Poet Laureate is up to. The advancement of art in this country is something we should all be concerned about, and nobody has more power to do that than the Poet Laureate.

by Emma Irving