A poet laureate (plural: poets laureate) is a poet officially appointed by a government, or conferring institution, who is often expected to compose poems for special events and occasions.
United States Poet Laureate
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.
External Links: Current U.S. Poet Laureate | Past U.S. Poets Laureate | Past U.S. Poet Laureate Projects | List of U.S. Poets Laureate by State
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
The post of Poet Laureate is a special honour awarded to a poet whose work is of national significance. Its holder is a salaried member of the British royal household, but the post has come to be free of specific duties. Although Ben Jonson apparently filled this role as early as 1616 under James I, the first official British poet laureate was John Dryden in 1668. The post is a lifetime appointment.
The role was entitled the Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of England until the Acts of Union 1707, when it became the Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of Great Britain. The present title, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, has been used since the Acts of Union 1800.
The post was traditionally held for life with John Dryden being the only holder to have been dismissed, in 1688, due to his refusal to swear an oath of allegiance to the new king, William III. However, starting with Andrew Motion in 1999, the appointment is made for a fixed term of 10 years.
In May 2009 Carol Ann Duffy became the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly gay person to be appointed to the position.
Role and rewards
The role of Poet Laureate is an honorary position that entails no specific duties, although there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions. An annual honorarium is provided, which is currently set at £5,760. The holder is also traditionally rewarded with a butt of canary or sack, which is approximately equivalent to 477 litres (105 gallons) of sherry. Cash payments, however, have been presented as an alternative to wine: in 1952, for example, John Masefield was instead given £27 (equivalent to £579 in 2013).
External Links: Information about the role of Poet Laureate in the United Kingdom
Poets Laureate by Country