- Books, Literature, and Writing
Poets: Kunitz, Collins, Kooser, Simic, Gluck, Hall, Ryan, Merwin
These Poets Have Served as Poet Laureate of the United States
What Poet Laureates Do: serve as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans.
Their "Mission": to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.
Process of Appointment: appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and serves from October to May. The Librarian consults with former appointees, the current Laureate and distinguished poetry critics.
Bit of History: from 1937 to 1985 the title was "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress"; in 1985 the name was changed by Congress to "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry."
Painting: The Poet by Chagall
There is not a particle of life
which does not
bear poetry within it.
~ Gustave Flaubert ~
Poet Laureat 2000 - 2001
Born: Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905.
Attended: Harvard College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1926 and a master's degree in 1927.
Military: served in the Army in World War II, after a request for conscientious objector status was denied.
Teaching: first at Bennington College in Vermont, and later at universities including Columbia, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Washington.
He died at the age of 100 on May 14, 2006.
"The poem comes in the form of a blessing-'like rapture breaking on the mind,' as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life." ~ Stanley Kunitz ~
The Long Boat - by Stanley Kunitz
THE LONG BOAT
When his boat snapped loose
from its moorings, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.
Poet Laureat 2001 - 2003
Born: New York City in 1941.
Fellowships: New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
In 1992, he served the New York Public Library "Literary Lion".
Teaching: summer poetry workshops in Ireland at University College Galway, and taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and currently Lehman College, City University of New York.
He lives in Somers, New York.
"We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn't hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered."
~ Stephen Dunn ~
This Much I Do Remember - by Billy Collins
THIS MUCH I DO REMEMBER
It was after dinner,
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,
and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.
All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of you
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of your shoulders
that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.
Then all the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from the millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.
Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.
Poet Laureat 2003 - 2004
Born: in New York City in 1943 and grew up on Long Island.
Education: studied at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University.
Teaching: Columbia, Iowa, Warren Wilson, Goddard, Williams College. She taught at Williams more than 20 years.
She is an adjunct professor/writer-in-residence at Yale University.
"Louise GlÃ¼ck is a poet of strong and haunting presence. Her poems, published in a series of memorable books over the last twenty years, have achieved the unusual distinction of being neither "confessional" nor "intellectual" in the usual senses of those words." ~ Helen Vendler ~
Eros - by Louise Gluck
I had drawn my chair to the hotel window, to watch the rain.
I was in a kind of dream or trance---
in love, and yet
I wanted nothing.
It seemed unnecessary to touch you, to see you again.
I wanted only this:
the room, the chair, the sound of the rain falling,
hour after hour, in the warmth of the spring night.
I needed nothing more; I was utterly sated.
My heart had become small; it took very little to fill it.
I watched the rain falling in heavy sheets over the darkened city---
You were not concerned; I could let you
live as you needed to live.
At dawn the rain abated. I did the things
one does in daylight, I acquitted myself,
but I moved like a sleepwalker.
It was enough and it no longer involved you.
A few days in a strange city.
A conversation, the touch of a hand.
And afterward, I took off my wedding ring.
That was what I wanted: to be naked.
Poet Laureat 2004 - 2006
Born: in Ames, Iowa in 1939.
Education: B.A. from Iowa State and his M.A. in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Teaching: visiting professor in the English department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He lives near the village of Garland, NE, with his wife.
"Ted Kooser is a master of metaphor, a poet who deftly connects disparate elements of the world and communicates with absolute precision. Critics call him a "haiku-like imagist" and his poems have been compared to Chekov's short stories." ~ publisher, Delights and Shadows ~
After Years - by Ted Kooser
Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.
Poet Laureat 2006 - 2007
Born: New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928.
Education: B.A. from Harvard in 1951 and a B. Litt. from Oxford in 1953.
Teaching: University of Michigan for almost 20 years.
"Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines." ~ Billy Collins ~
Affirmation - by Donald Hall
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
Poet Laureat 2007 - 2008
Born: May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he had a traumatic childhood during World War II.
Emigrated: 1954, from Yugoslavia with his mother and brother to join his father in the United States. They lived in and around Chicago until 1958.
Military: 1961, drafted into the U.S. Army.
Education: 1966, earned his Bachelor's degree from New York University. He worked nights to cover the costs of tuition.
"There are few poets writing in America today who share his lavish appetite for the bizarre, his inexhaustible repertoire of indelible characters and gestures ... Simic is perhaps our most disquieting muse." (Harvard Review)
Summer Morning - by Charles Simic
I love to stay in bed
Covers thrown off, naked,
Eyes closed, listening.
Outside they are opening
In the little school
Of the cornfield.
There's a smell of damp hay,
Of horses, laziness,
Summer sky and eternal life.
I know all the dark places
Where the sun hasn't reached yet,
Were the last cricket
Has just hushed; anthills
Where it sounds like it's raining;
Slumbering spiders spinning wedding dresses.
I pass over the farmhouses
Where the little mouths open to suck,
Barnyards where a man, naked to the waist,
Washes his face and shoulders with a hose,
Where the dishes begin to rattle in the kitchen.
The good tree with its voice
Of a mountain stream
Knows my steps.
It, too, hushes.
I stop and listen:
Somewhere close by
A stone cracks a knuckle,
Another turns over in its sleep.
I hear a butterfly stirring
Inside a caterpillar.
I hear the dust talking
Of last night's storm.
Farther ahead, someone
Even more silent
Passes over the grass
Without bending it.
And all of a sudden:
In the midst of that quiet,
It seems possible
To live simply on this earth.
Poet Laureat 2008 - 2010
Born: California in 1945; grew up in the small towns of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert.
Education: bachelor's and master's degree from UCLA.
Teaching: remedial English, College of Marin, Kentfield, California.
"Her poems are compact, exhilarating, strange affairs, like Erik Satie miniatures or Joseph Cornell boxes. She is an anomaly in today's literary culture: as intense and elliptical as Dickinson, as buoyant and rueful as Frost." ~J.D. McClatchy ~
Repulsive Theory - by Kay Ryan
Little has been made
of the soft skirting action
of magnets reversed,
while much has been
made or attraction.
But is it not this pillowy
principle of repulsion
that produces the doily edges of oceans
or the arabesques of thought?
And do these cutout coasts
and in-curved rhetorical beaches
not baffle the onslaught
of the sea or objectionable people
and give private life
what small protection it's got?
Praise then the oiled motions
of avoidance, the pearly
convolutions of all that
slides off or takes a
wide berth; praise every
eddying vacancy of Earth,
all the dimpled depths
of pooling space, the whole
swirl set up by fending off---
extending far beyond the personal,
immense and good
in a cosmological sense:
unpressing us against
each other, lending
the necessary never
Kay Ryan Reflects - an interview . . .
- Kay Ryan Reflects on Role as Nation's Poet Laureat
Well, I see my role as completely paradoxical to my nature. I think the nature of the poet is to be someone who insists on being individual and seeing things from a very particular point of view and having a voice that isn't like anybody else's voice
Current U.S. Poet Laureate
Born: William Stanley Merwin was born in New York City on September 30, 1927. He was raised in Union City, New Jersey and Scranton, Pennsylvania, as the son of a Presbyterian minister.
Education: Merwin attended Princeton University on a scholarship. After graduating in 1948, he spent an additional year at Princeton studying Romance language.
After College: Merwin worked as a tutor to the children of wealthy families in Europe. In 1956, he received a 2 year fellowship from the Poets' Theater in Cambridge, He was poetry editor at The Nation in 1962. In 1971, Merwin received the Pulitzer Prize for The Carrier of Ladders. In 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii to study with the Zen Buddhist master Robert Aitken.
"When a poem is really finished, you can't change anything. You can't move words around. You can't say, 'In other words, you mean.' No, that's not it. There are no other words in which you mean it. This is it." ~ W.S. Merwin ~
It Is March
by W. S. Merwin
It is March and black dust falls out of the books
Soon I will be gone
The tall spirit who lodged here has
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
When you look back there is always the past
Even when it has vanished
But when you look forward
With your dirty knuckles and the wingless
Bird on your shoulder
What can you write
The bitterness is still rising in the old mines
The fist is coming out of the egg
The thermometers out of the mouths of the corpses
At a certain height
The tails of the kites for a moment are
Covered with footsteps
Whatever I have to do has not yet begun
- Poet Laureate Timeline
Discover poet laureates in the 20th century.
- The Poet Laureate
The United States established an honorary, uncompensated position called Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress in 1937. The first person to hold this position was Joseph Auslander . . .
- British Poet Laureates
In England the first Poet Laureate was Ben Johnson, although it is not clear whether he was officially given the position . . .
- from The New York Times
. . . 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. Lots of articles, photos, v
Learn about poet laureates, and a ton of other stuff on PRX. Public Radio Exchange is an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. You have to sign up, but its free.
- Kay Ryan: On Words and Writing
Ryan shares a pair of poems and talks to Andrea Seabrook about her approach to words and writing.
- At Home With Ted Kooser
An interview, audio recordings by Ted Kooser, pictures, and a few printed poems. Very nice.
- Billy Collins: Link Library
Links to Collin's books, events, interviews/articles, and other relevant sites.
- Stanley Kunitz
A poem, an audio interview with Kunitz, and links.
- Louise Gluck: The Myth of Devotion
This poem is from Averno, a collection by Louise Gluck that mines the ancient myth of Persephone for the light that it sheds on the experience of death and dying.
- Simic Reflects on Poet Laureate Honor
"I'm almost frightened to get out of bed, too much good luck in one week," Simic says. (Audio interview with Charles Simic.)
- Donald Hall
Robert Siegel talks with Hall, who had just been appointed poet laureate by the Library of Congress. The former poet laureate also reads from three of his poems . . .
- W. S. Merwin, Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers interviews poet W.S. Merwin on the JOURNAL about poetry, life, the environment and the insights he's gained in 50 years as a poet, translator, and writer.
The Poet Laureate Anthology
As a record of poetry, The Poets Laureate Anthology is groundbreaking, charting the course of American poetry over the last seventy-five years, while being, at the same time, a pleasure to read, full of some of the world’s best-known poems and many new surprises. Schmidt’s (editor) spirited introductions place the poets and their poems in historical and literary context and shine light on the interesting and often uneasy relationship between politics and art. This is an inviting, monumental collection for everyone’s library, containing much of the best poetry written in America over the last century. 43 black-and-white photographs (amazon)