Maryland’s Poet Laureate Stanley Plumly will present a half-day intensive poetry workshop at the Maryland Writers’ Association conference March 23-24, 2018 in Baltimore. This prompted me to wonder what exactly a poet laureate is and what does he or she do?
As of 2017, poets laureate are appointed in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Although terms vary in length from state to state, the appointment is for one or two years in most states.
In Maryland, The poet laureate position was formally established by the Maryland General Assembly in 1959 and authorizes the governor to appoint a citizen of the state as Poet Laureate of Maryland. Past poets laureate include (in order of service): Maria B. Coker, Vincent Godfrey Burns, Lucille Clifton, Reed Whittemore, Linda Pastan, Roland Flint, Michael Collier, and Michael Glaser.
The position is an honorary one in which the individual selected serves at the discretion of the governor for up to a four-year term renewable by the governor’s consent. The poet laureate provides public readings for the citizens of Maryland, ensuring that people in all geographic regions of the state have access to at least one reading during the term of service. An honorary position, the poet laureate does not receive compensation, but limited reimbursement for expenses incurred in the performance of duties is available.
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress—usually called the United States Poet Laureate—serves as the official poet of the United States. The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed annually by the Librarian of the United States Congress, serves from October to May, and seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The position is administered by the Center for the Book.
Currently, the laureate receives a $35,000 annual stipend; The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties in order to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. The laureate gives an annual lecture and reading of his or her poetry and usually introduces poets in the Library’s poetry series, the oldest in the Washington area and among the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s. Collectively the Laureates have brought more than 2,000 poets and authors to the Library to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
The current poet laureate is Tracy K. Smith, an American poet and educator who was born April 16, 1972, in Falmouth, MA, and raised in Fairfield, CA. She has published three collections of poetry, winning the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 volume Life on Mars.
Smith received her A.B. from Harvard University, graduating in 1994. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 1997. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University.
The ninth poet laureate of Maryland, Stanley Plumly, was appointed on October 1, 2009. He is the author of nine books of poetry, including Old Heart, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Most recently, Mr. Plumly has authored Posthumous Keats, a “personal biography” of the English poet, John Keats, which has received widespread critical acclaim by reviewers for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, among others, and his poems, essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in many of the country’s best periodicals and newspapers.
He has received numerous awards including eight Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Poetry Prize (2007), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2002), and a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation (2001).