A poet laureate (plural: poets laureate) is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for State occasions and other government events.

In the United Kingdom the term has for centuries been the title of the official poet of the monarch, since the time of Charles II. Poets laureate are appointed by many countries. In Britain there is also a Children's Laureate.

Etymology Edit

In ancient Greece the laurel was sacred to the god Apollo, and was used to form a crown or wreath of honour for poets and heroes. This custom, first revived in Padua for Albertino Mussato, was followed by Petrarch's examination before the court of Robert of Naples in 1341; the actual crowning ceremony took place in the audience hall of the medieval senatorial palazzo on the Campidoglio, 8 April 1341.[1] These ceremonies, for lack of detailed Roman precedents, took on the character of doctoral candidatures.[2]

It has since become widespread, both in fact and as a metaphor. The word laureate or laureated thus came in English to signify eminence or association with glory (cf. Nobel laureate). Laureate letters were once the dispatches announcing a victory. The term laureate became associated with degrees awarded by European universities (the term baccalaureate for the degree of bachelor reflects this idea). As a royal degree in rhetoric, poet laureate was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognized skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.

According to the historian Edward Gibbon, Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304–1374) of Rome, perhaps best known for his sonnets to the fair-haired, blue-eyed Laura, took the title of "poet laureate" in 1341 for the poem "Africa".

Poets Laureate, specialized and localizedEdit

Poets Laureate by more specialized and localized divisions are found under a separate article in Wikipedia. These include towns, cities, organizations, institutions, and non-governmental groups.

Poets Laureate by COUNTRY: History, Law, and Official Appointments Edit

United Kingdom (English) Edit

Main article: Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom

From the more general use of the term "poet laureate" arose its restriction in England to an official office of Poet Laureate, attached to the royal household. King James I essentially created the position as it is known today for Ben Jonson in 1617, although Jonson's appointment does not seem to have been made formally. The office was a development from the practice in earlier times when minstrels and versifiers formed part of the king's retinue. Richard Cœur-de-Lion had a versificator regis (English: king's poet), Gulielmus Peregrinus (William the Pilgrim), and Henry III had a versificator named Master Henry. In the fifteenth century, John Kay, a versifier, described himself as Edward IV's "humble poet laureate".

The title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670, two years after Davenant's death. The post then became a regular institution. Dryden's successor Shadwell originated annual birthday and New Year odes. The poet laureate became responsible for writing and presenting official verses to commemorate both personal occasions, such as the monarch's birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. His activity in this respect has varied according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death. The office fell into some contempt before Southey, but took on a new lustre from his personal distinction and that of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Wordsworth stipulated, before accepting the honour, that no formal effusions from him should be considered a necessity; but Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class.

On Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that no possible successor was acceptable, William Morris and Swinburne being hardly suitable as court poets. Eventually, however, the undesirability of breaking with tradition for temporary reasons, and thus severing the one official link between literature and the state, prevailed over the protests against allowing anyone of inferior genius to follow Tennyson. It may be noted that abolition had been similarly advocated when Warton and Wordsworth died. Edward Gibbon had condemned the position's artificial approach to poetry:

From Augustus to Louis, the muse has too often been false and venal: but I much doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who in every reign, and at all events, is bound to furnish twice a year a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence, of the sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince is a man of virtue and the poet a man of genius.
— Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter LXX (footnote)

The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine". Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain's department, and £27 from the Lord Steward's "in lieu of the butt of sack".


Main article: Parliamentary Poet Laureate

The Parliamentary Poet Laureate is appointed as an officer of the Library of Parliament for a two-year term. The position alternates between an English and French speaking laureate each term. Candidates must be able to write in both English and French, must have a substantial publication history (including poetry) displaying literary excellence and must have written work reflecting Canada, among other criteria.

The first ever Parliamentary Poet Laureate was George Bowering, appointed in 2002. In 2004, the title was transferred to Pauline Michel and in 2006 to John Steffler. His term ended on December 3, 2008 and nominations for the position were open to residents of Canada up to September 2008. Pierre DesRuisseaux was named the new laureate on April 28, 2009.

New ZealandEdit

Main article: New Zealand Poet Laureate

New Zealand has only had an official poet laureate for a few years. Originally sponsored by Te Mata vineyards and known as the Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate, the award is now administered by the National Library of New Zealand and the holder is officially called New Zealand Poet Laureate. The post is held for two years. Unlike the butt of sack traditionally offered to English poets laureate, New Zealand offers a Tokotoko, which is a carved wooden ceremonial orator's staff.

The first holder of the title was Bill Manhire who held the post of Poet Laureate from 1998-99. Other former Poets Laureate include, Hone Tuwhare (2000–01), Elizabeth Smither (2002–03), Brian Turner (2004–05), Jenny Bornholdt (2006–07) and Michele Leggott, (2008–09). The current poet laureate is Bluff poet Cilla McQueen (2010–2011).[3][4]

United KingdomEdit

Main article: Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom

The present British Poet Laureate is Carol Ann Duffy, appointed poet laureate in May 2009. Former Poets Laureate included: Alfred Lord Tennyson during the Crimean war.


Main article: Makar

During the 15th and 16th century, the bards of the King of Scotland. were known as the Makars .

A position of national laureate, entitled The Scots Makar, was established in 2004 by the Scottish Parliament. The first appointment was made directly by the Parliament in that year when Edwin Morgan received the honour to become Scotland's first ever official national poet.[5][6] He was succeeded in 2011 by Liz Lochhead.[7]


Main article: National Poet for Wales

Wales has had a long tradition of poets and bards under royal patronage, with extant writing from mediæval royal poets and earlier. An office of National Poet for Wales was established in April 2005. The first holder, Gwyneth Lewis, was followed by Gwyn Thomas

United States of AmericaEdit

Main article: United States Poet Laureate

The United States Library of Congress has since 1937 appointed an official Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. An Act of Congress changed the name of the position in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. A number of the American states' legislatures have created official government positions which are occupied by poets who are prominent either locally, nationally, or sometimes both.

W.S. Merwin was named the 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States, it was reported on July 1, 2010.[8] Merwin will succeed Kay Ryan, who was the country's sixteenth Poet Laureate. Laureates receive a US$35,000 stipend and are given the responsibility of overseeing an ongoing series of poetry readings and lectures at the library, and a charge to promote poetry. No other duties are specified, and laureates are not required to compose for government events or in praise of government officials. However, after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, the Poet Laureate then in office, Billy Collins, was asked to write a poem to be read in front of a special joint session of Congress. Collins wrote "The Names,"[1] which he read on September 6, 2002, which is available in streaming audio and video.[9] When the $35,000 stipend was originally instituted, the amount was quite large and was intended to allow the poet laureate to abandon worries about earning a living and devote his or her time entirely to writing poetry. That amount has remained the same over the years, so the intent of making it a nice living for a poet is no longer being fulfilled. Now it functions as a bonus for a poet who usually is teaching at a university and earns the bulk of his or her living that way.

Previous U.S. Poets Laureate have included: Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Karl Shapiro, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Joseph Brodsky, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hass, Donald Hall, Robert Pinsky (three terms), Mark Strand, Audre Lorde and Maxine Kumin, among others.


The Commonwealth of Virginia has appointed a Poet Laureate since December 18, 1936. The first Poet Laureate was Carter Warner Wormeley; he was appointed for life. The appointments made from 1942 until 1992 were for one year at a time, many were for more than one term. In 1992, the appointment was increased to a two-year term, and beginning in 1998 the appointments were made from list of nominees presented by the Poetry Society of Virginia; which was established at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1923. For a complete list of Poets Laureate of Virginia and the Virginia law governing their appointment follow this reference. [10]


Poets Laureate of Ireland include: Seamus Heaney,


Sripada Krishnamurty Sastry was the first poet laureate of Andhra Pradesh, India.

Tamil NaduEdit

Kannadasan was the poet laureate of Tamil Nadu at the time of his death.


Poets Laureate of Ethiopiainclude: Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin,


Poets Laureate of Nazi Germany include: Hanns Johst from 1935 to 1945,

Dominican RepublicEdit

Poets Laureate of Dominican Republic include: Pedro Mir 1984


Poets Laureate of Dominican Republic include: Obo Aba Hisanjani

Saint LuciaEdit

Poets Laureate of Saint Lucia include: Derek Walcott


The unofficial Poet Laureate of Netherlands is currently: Ramsey Nasr as Dichter des Vaderlands (Poet of the Fatherland). Gerrit Komrij was the first Dichter des Vaderlands. The title isn't officially designated but was created by Dutch media.


External linksEdit

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