Skip to Main Content

U.S. State Poets Laureate: A Resource Guide

Massachusetts-New Jersey

Select a state below to learn more about the history of its poet laureateship, including the names of any current and former state poets laureate.

Massachusetts-New Jersey

Massachusetts does not have a state poet laureate. The position does not exist.

Current Michigan Laureate: Nandi Comer

Start of Term: April 12, 2023

Michigan Poet Laureate Position History: Edgar A. Guest was the first and, until 2023, only Michigan Poet Laureate, a title he held from 1952 until his death in 1959. Guest was appointed Poet Laureate through Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 38 (1952) of the Michigan Legislature. The text of the resolution follows:

A concurrent resolution designating Edgar A. Guest the Poet Laureate of the state of Michigan. Whereas, Thousands of people in the State of Michigan throughout the years have looked to the poems of Edgar A. Guest for moral support in times of stress and have enjoyed his subtle humor and homespun philosophy; and Whereas, The poems of Edgar A. Guest have depicted the daily lives of the people of the state of Michigan, and have reflected the American principles on which the United States of America is founded, now therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the members of the Michigan Legislature, convened in the Regular Session of 1952, are proud to bestow on Edgar A. Guest the title of Poet Laureate of the state of Michigan, with the knowledge that Edgar A. Guest at all times will truly reflect in his poems that people of the state of Michigan in their daily lives; and be it further Resolved that a suitable copy of this resolution be transmitted to Edgar A. Guest. The concurrent resolution was considered and adopted.

(Journal of the Senate of the State of Michigan, Regular Session of 1952, v. 1, March 25, p. 788.)

Will Carleton (1845–1912) is sometimes referred to as the first Poet Laureate of Michigan. As Jerome A. Fallon writes in his biography of Carleton, Will Carleton: Poet of the People (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2004, p. 250):

Before his triumphal year of 1871 had ended, Will was being referred to by the titles which would identify him for the rest of his life and career: "The Poet of Michigan," later amended to "The Poet Laureate of Michigan," and "The Farmer's Poet."

The Library of Congress has not been able to locate a bill or resolution naming Will Carleton Michigan's Poet Laureate. It appears that he held an honorary, unofficial position as Michigan's Poet Laureate based on his widespread popularity, not on legislation created to honor him as such.

On September 20, 2000, Michigan state Senator Thaddeus McCotter proposed Senate Bill 1348, which would have created the position of Michigan State Poet Laureate. It was pocket vetoed by Gov. John Engler on December 31, 2000. In 2005 the Michigan Legislature considered Senate Bill 0181, which likewise would have established a state poet laureate. The bill was passed by the Senate on December 13, 2005, but did not emerge from the House. In June 2019 Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, sponsored House Bill 4805, another attempt to create a state poet laureate position. The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and no subsequent action was taken.

On December 18, 2019, the Poet Laureate Subcommittee of the Governor's Educator Advisory Council presented a "Proposal to Create a Poet Laureate of Michigan." Like based on the proposals of the Council, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Executive Budget Recommendations for FY2021 and FY2022 proposed $100,000 for the Michigan Department of Education "to create and support a state poet laureate who will travel the state meeting with teachers and students to promote poetry, the spoken word, and literary arts in a generation of young students."

On April 12, 2023, Nandi Comer was appointed the first Michigan Poet Laureate since Edgar A. Guest.

Further Resources

Current Minnesota Laureate: Gwen Westerman

Start of Term: September 9, 2021

Position History: Margaret Ball Dickson was named poet laureate of Minnesota by the Poet Laureate League, Washington, D.C., in 1934. Her appointment was recognized by the governor in a letter to Mrs. Dickson. Laurene Tibbetts-Larson was chosen unofficially by an election announced in the media in 1973. She was appointed May 14, 1974, by columnist Abe Altrowitz, and designated Minnesota Commissioner of Poetry by the governor. Legislation introduced on February 19, 1974, to make the position of poet laureate official was not passed. A bill (HF 3161) introduced April 1, 2004, to create the position also did not pass. A subsequent bill (HF 1275) introduced February 4, 2005, was vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty, who noted in a letter accompanying the veto that "Even though we have a state 'folklorist,' I also have concern this will lead to calls for other similar positions. We could also see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter."

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. Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota's second official poet laureate, stepped down from the position in April 2021.

Previous Laureates:

  • Margarette Ball Dickson (1934-July 21, 1963)
  • Laurene Tibbetts-Larson (May 14, 1974-December 6, 1999)
  • Robert Bly (February 27, 2008-August 22, 2011)
  • Joyce Sutphen (August 2011-April 2021)

Further Resources

Current Mississippi Laureate: Catherine Pierce

Start of Term: April 15, 2021

Position History: Mississippi's first laureate was Maude Willard Leet Prenshaw, appointed by Gov. Ross Barnett in 1963. In 1973, Louise Moss Montgomery was named laureate by Gov. William Waller. Gov. Cliff Finch appointed Winifred Hamrick Farrar laureate in 1978. All three poets laureate served lifetime terms. Beginning with Natasha Trethewey, Mississippi poets laureate now serve four-year terms.

Previous Laureates:

  • Maude Willard Leet Prenshaw (1963-1971)
  • Louise Moss Montgomery (1973-January 1978)
  • Winifred Hamrick Farrar (July 31, 1978-November 6, 2010)
  • Natasha Trethewey (January 2012-August 9, 2016)
  • Beth Ann Fennelly (August 10, 2016-April 2021)

Further Resources

Current Missouri Laureate: Maryfrances Wagner

Start of Term: July 1, 2021 (term ends June 30, 2023)

Position History: Gov. Matt Blunt announced the creation of the position of Missouri Poet Laureate in October 2007. Position officially established on January 8, 2008 by Executive Order 08-01, which was superseded on December 24, 2009 by Executive Order 09-28. EO 09-28 provides the following description of the position:

The Poet Laureate shall be named in January, 2010, and biennially thereafter, and shall serve for two years, at the pleasure of the Governor. In addition to other criteria established, the Poet Laureate must be a published poet, a resident of Missouri, be active in the poetry community, and be willing and able to promote poetry in the state of Missouri throughout the two-year term. The Poet Laureate shall be responsible for promoting the arts in Missouri by making public appearances at public libraries and schools across the state. The Poet Laureate shall also compose an original poem in honor of Missouri that may be used for publication and distribution.

Previous Laureates:

  • Walter Bargen (February 13, 2008-January 2010)
  • David Clewell (March 3, 2010-January 31, 2012)
  • William Trowbridge (April 13, 2012-June 29, 2016)
  • Aliki Barnstone (June 30, 2016-2019)
  • Karen Craigo (November 2019-June 2021)

Current Montana Laureate: Mark Gibbons

Start of Term: August 25, 2021

Position History: Senate Bill 69, which creates the honorary, unpaid post of Montana state poet laureate, was signed into law by Gov. Brian Schweitzer on March 24, 2005. The first Montana state poet laureate, Sandra Alcosser, was appointed by Gov. Schweitzer on July 13, 2005. Laureates serve a two-year term. The 2012-2012 poets laureate, Melissa Kwasny and Mandy Smoker Broaddus, were the first to share the position.

Previous Laureates:

  • Sandra Alcosser (July 13, 2005-July 13, 2007)
  • Greg Pape (August 14, 2007-September 2009)
  • Henry Real Bird (September 25, 2009-August 2011)
  • Sheryl Noethe (August 2, 2011-July 31, 2013)
  • Tami Haaland (August 1, 2013-October 22, 2015)
  • Michael Earl Craig (October 23, 2015-July 31, 2017)
  • Lowell Jaeger (August 1, 2017-July 30, 2019)
  • Melissa Kwasny and Mandy Smoker Broaddus (July 31, 2019-August 2021)

Further Resources

Current Nebraska Laureate: Matt Mason

Start of Term: February 25, 2019

Position History: Position of Poet Laureate established 1921 with the naming of John G. Neihardt by Legislature. Position title changed to State Poet when William Kloefkorn was appointed by Governor Charles Thone September 11, 1982, on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee headed by the executive director of the Nebraska Humanities Council. John G. Neihardt and William Kloefkorn served lifetime appointments. Twyla Hansen's appointment served a five-year term. The most recently appointed laureate, Matt Mason, is serving a five year, renewable term.

As noted by the Nebraska Library Commission:

The Nebraska State Poet will be chosen based on artistic excellence, exemplary professionalism demonstrated by significant publications and special honors, an established history of community service in the advancement of poetry in Nebraska, and the ability to present poetry and interact effectively with a public audience. In addition, the State Poet must be a legal, full-time resident for at least three years prior to the application deadline and must maintain Nebraska residence during his or her full term of office.

Previous Laureates:

  • John G. Neihardt (1921-November 3, 1973)
  • William Kloefkorn (September 11, 1982-May 19, 2011)
  • Twyla M. Hansen (December 1, 2013-January 2019)

Current Nevada Laureate: Gailmarie Pahmeier

Start of Term: September 2021 (term ends August 2023)

Position History: Position established July 15, 1957 by Gov. Grant Sawyer. First laureate was Mildred Breedlove. Through 2007 it had been a lifetime position and occupied by Norman Kaye since 1967. On April 30, 2007, Gov. Jim Gibbons named Kaye Poet Laureate Emeritus, a move which allowed the state to appoint a new poet laureate. The Nevada Arts Council's "Nevada Poet Laureate" program page describes the laureateship as follows:

The Nevada State Poet Laureate is a Governor appointed position. The Nevada Arts Council oversees the Poet Laureate selection process and submits qualified individuals to the Governor for final review and appointment. The role of the Poet Laureate is to propagate the art of poetry and encourage literacy and learning throughout the state.

On September 30, 2021, Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed Gailmarie Pahmeier External as Nevada Poet Laureate. Pahmeier will serve a two-year term as poet laureate.

Previous Laureates:

  • Norman Kaye (1967-April 2007)
  • Mildred Breedlove (appointed July 15, 1957)

Current New Hampshire Laureate: Alexandria Peary

Start of Term: October 23, 2019 (term ends March 2024)

Position History: Position established June 19, 1967; codified in Revised Statutes Annotated, Sec. 3-A:1-3. The poet is appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, from a list submitted by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. The term of office is five years. Cynthia Huntington, who began her term in March 2004, resigned in 2005 after she moved to Vermont. Walter E. Butts passed away on March 31, 2013.

Previous Laureates:

  • Paul Scott Mowrer (September 1968-1971)
  • Eleanor Vinton (August 1972-December 1978)
  • Richard Eberhart (January 1979-January 1984)
  • Donald Hall (June, 1984-January 1989)
  • Maxine Kumin (March 1989-March 1994)
  • Jane Kenyon (January 1995-March 1999)
  • Donald Hall (December 1995-March 1999)
  • Marie Harris (October 1999-March 2004)
  • Cynthia Huntington (March 22, 2004-December 2005)
  • Patricia Fargnoli (January 2006-March 2009)
  • Walter E. Butts (March 31, 2009-March 2013)
  • Alice B. Fogel (November 2012-March 2019)

New Jersey Poet Laureate History: The position no longer exists. It was created October 4, 1999, under P.L.1999, c.228 (vol. 2, p, 1373, of Acts of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey External for 1999). Gerald Stern was appointed first New Jersey poet laureate April 17, 2000, by Gov. Christie Whitman. New Jersey's second poet laureate, Amiri Baraka, came under intense criticism after reading his poem "Somebody Blew Up America" at the September 2002 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. The poem was said to include anti-Semitic sentiments in the wake of the World Trade Center bombings, particularly the lines:

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?

Baraka refused New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's call for him to resign. When McGreevey attempted to fire Baraka, he found no provision in the law for removing a state poet laureate. Subsequently, on October 17, 2002, a bill was introduced to the New Jersey Senate that would eliminate the position of state poet laureate; it passed and became effective July 2, 2003 (P.L.2003, c.123; (vol. 1, p, 1020 of Acts of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey External for 2003).

Previous Laureates:

  • Gerald Stern (April 17, 2000-2002)
  • Amiri Baraka (July 2002-July 2, 2003)