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Poets: Kunitz, Collins, Kooser, Simic, Gluck, Hall, Ryan, Merwin

Updated on September 21, 2013

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 ~

STANLEY KUNITZ

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

that caring.

He was content to lie down

with the family ghosts

in the slop of his cradle,

buffeted by the storm,

endlessly drifting.

Peace! Peace!

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.

BILLY COLLINS

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.

LOUISE GLUCK

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 Glück 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

EROS

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.

TED KOOSER

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

AFTER YEARS

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.

DONALD HALL

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

AFFIRMATION

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.

CHARLES SIMIC

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

SUMMER MORNING

I love to stay in bed

All morning,

Covers thrown off, naked,

Eyes closed, listening.

Outside they are opening

Their primers

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.

KAY RYAN

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

REPULSIVE THEORY

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,

I'm convinced---

immense and good

in a cosmological sense:

unpressing us against

each other, lending

the necessary never

to never-ending.

W.S. MERWIN

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 ~

photobucket: mzaragoza

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

Left already

On the avenues the colorless thread lies under

Old prices

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

The Poet Laureate Anthology

The Poets Laureate Anthology
The Poets 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)

 

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