The poet laureate has not always been an official government position. In the U.S. from 1937 to 1986 there was a position called “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.” Some very famous people served in this role from Robert Frost to Elizabeth Bishop. In 1986 the title and position was changed to “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.” Only those who served after 1986 are considered “Poet Laureate.” There was some controversy over changing the title and official job description as many writers do not want to write on cue and be part of a political position. One writer said he thought being a poet laureate would be the worst job ever.
Here is a list of all those who served as the official for the U.S.:
| Poets LaureateRobert Penn Warren1986-1987Richard Wilbur 1987-1988Howard Nemerov 1988-1990
Mark Strand 1990-1991
Joseph Brodsky 1991-1992
Mona Van Duyn 1992-1993
Rita Dove 1993-1995
Robert Hass 1995-1997
Robert Pinsky 1997-2000
Stanley Kunitz 2000-2001
| Billy Collins 2001-2003Louise Gluck 2003-2004Ted Kooser 2004-2006
Donald Hall 2006-2007
Charles Simic 2007-2008
Kay Ryan 2008-2010
W. S. Merwin 2010-2011
Philip Levine 2011-2012
Natasha Trethewey 2012-
The current poet laureate of the United States was appointed in 2012 by the U.S. Library of Congress at age 46. Trethewey was inspired to write poetry by her father who she visited often in Mississippi. She grew up with her mother in Decatur, Georgia and graduated from University of Georgia in 1989. Her works include Domestic Work, Bellocq’s Ophelia, and Native Guard, about Black Union soldiers. Trethewey won a Pulitzer Prize for her work Native Guard in 2007. Trethewey is the first southern poet to be nominated since 1986, the first African-American poet to be appointed since 1993 and is the only U.S. Poet Laureate to elect to stay in Washington DC and serve her term in the Poets Room at the Library of Congress.
Each state has a poet laureate, as well, who serves for two years and is appointed by the Governor. The poet is selected by examining how they represent the state’s racial and literary diversity across the geographic map. In North Carolina the poet laureate receives a $15,000 stipend each year in order to continue working on some project he or she is interested in. The N.C. Arts Council provides support in helping the laureate travel across the state to engage with the literary community. The oldest duty of the laureate is to write poems for historic or culturally important events.
Previous N.C. Laureates:
Arthur Abernethy (appointed 1948)
James Larkin Pearson (1953-1981)
Sam Ragan (1982-April 1996)
Fred Chappell (December 10, 1997-December 2002)
Kathryn Stripling Byer (February 24, 2005-February 2009)
Cathy Smith Bowers (February 10, 2010-June 30, 2012)
The current N.C. Poet Laureate is Joseph Bathanti. Bathanti is a professor at Appalachian State University and is the chair of the N.C. Writers’ Network Prison Project. His most recent poem is called Fayetteville. He has decided to dedicate his time in office to raising awareness and recognition for veterans. North Carolina has eight military installations and one of the largest populations of veterans in the United States.