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U.S. State Poets Laureate: A Resource Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a poet become a state poet laureate?

State poets laureate can acquire their title unofficially or officially. Unofficially, a laureate may be named through a literary club ceremony, widespread popularity or publicity, or through nicknaming. This allows many poets to claim laureate status, however. Official designation of state poet laureate is by governor's act or proclamation, by legislative action, or by both governor and legislature.

The Academy of American Poets page on "Creating Poets Laureate Positions in States, Cities, U.S. Territories, and Tribal Nations" External includes additional information on the selection of state poets laureate, as well as their typical duties and activities.

What are the duties of a state poet laureate?

The duties of a poet laureate vary from state to state, and are determined by the appointing body or existing legislation. Usually the duties are broadly outlined, and involve the central mission of promoting the reading, writing, and appreciation of poetry among the general public. While occasional poetry readings and other events may be required, laureates otherwise tend to be able to fulfill their mission as they see fit. Leading poetry workshops, organizing and participating in reading series, visiting local schools, attending conferences, and developing online poetry initiatives are some of the ways laureates typically fulfill their duties.

What qualifications do you need to become a state poet laureate?

Qualifications to become a state poet laureate vary from state to state. Generally, nomination for and appointment to the position is based upon a poet's written body of work, whose subject matter is often specific to the state and whose quality is demonstrated through honors, awards, and other forms of recognition. A second major qualification usually is the ability of the poet to promote poetry within the state. Additionally, eligibility almost always requires the poet be a current resident of the state.

How many states currently have a poet laureate?

Forty-five states have an official position of state poet laureate. Two states, Alaska and Idaho, have a position for "State Writer Laureate" and "Writer-in-Residence," respectively. The position of state poet laureate or state writer is occupied in forty-four of these forty-six states.

While Indiana has an official state poet laureate (position created 2005), it also has a well-established unofficial position maintained by the Indiana State Federation of Poetry Clubs.

The three states with no poet laureate or state writer position are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Who was the first state poet laureate, and for which state?

The first state poet laureate was Ina Coolbrith, who was named poet laureate of California by governor's proclamation on April 21, 1915. The California legislature approved this proclamation on April 26, 1919. Chronologically, the second person to be named a state poet laureate was Alice Polk Hill, who became Colorado's laureate on September 10, 1919.

Do state poets laureate ever congregate?

Yes. Beginning in 2003, there have been several gatherings of state poets laureate. Major national gatherings include:

  • April 25-26, 2003 - "Poetry and Politics: Nations of the Mind" (Manchester, New Hampshire)
  • May 24-26, 2005 - "Discover the Spirit," National Writers Congress Conference (North Dakota)
  • June 22-28, 2007 - "Sporting Words" (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • April 19-23, 2009 - "Poetry for Hope" (Rhode Island)
  • March 14-15, 2010 - "Midwest Poets Laureate Convergence" (Lawrence, Kansas)
  • March 13-14, 2011 - "Poet Laureati" (Lawrence, Kansas)
  • October 11, 2015 - "In the Company of Laureates" (Manassas, Virginia)

In addition, on September 25, 2011, four state poets laureate and the poet laureate of Washington, D.C., read in the State Poets Laureate pavilion at the National Book Festival.

Where can I find out more about state poets laureate?

Additional information about state poets laureate often can be found through state arts councils External, state libraries External, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies External.

Where can I find out about the poet laureate of the United States?

Information about the national poets laureate can be found through the Literary Initiatives Office of the Library of Congress, whose website includes a page on the position's history, as well as the Library's collection of United States Poets Laureate research guides.

Who is the poet laureate of Great Britain?

The current British poet laureate is Simon Armitage, who was appointed to a ten year term on May 10, 2019. Previous British poets laureate are:

  • John Dryden (1668-1688)
  • Thomas Shadwell (1689-1692)
  • Nahum Tate (1692-1715)
  • Nicholas Rowe (1715-1718)
  • Laurence Eusden (1718-1730)
  • Colley Cibber (1730-1757)
  • William Whitehead (1757-1785)
  • Thomas Warton (1785-1790)
  • Henry James Pye (1790-1813)
  • Robert Southey (1813-1843)
  • William Wordsworth (1843-1850)
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1850-1892)
  • Alfred Austin (1896-1913)
  • Robert Bridges (1913-1930)
  • John Masefield (1930-1967)
  • Cecil Day-Lewis (1968-1972)
  • Sir John Betjeman (1972-1984)
  • Ted Hughes (1984-1998)
  • Andrew Motion (1999-2009)
  • Carol Ann Duffy (2009-2019)

Does Canada have a poet laureate?

Yes, Canada created the position of Parliamentary Poet Laureate in December 2001. Its current poet laureate, appointed in 2021, is Louise Bernice Halfe. Previous Parliamentary Poets Laureate are:

  • George Bowering (2002-2004)
  • Pauline Michel (2004-2006)
  • John Steffler (2006-2008)
  • Pierre DesRuisseaux (2009-2011)
  • Fred Wah (2011-2013)
  • Michel Pleau (2014-2016)
  • George Elliott Clarke (2016-2017)
  • Georgette LeBlanc (2018-2019)