Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lynn from Cinnaminson. Lynn Wonders, “What does a poet laureate do?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lynn!
In honor of today’s topic, let’s start this Wonder with a poem:
Wonderopolis is our name,
And curiosity is our game.
In this Wonder for which you came,
There is much poetic acclaim.
What do you think? Should we stick to our day job? Or are we meant for greatness? Maybe we’ll be the next poet laureate!
Poet laureate is a title that goes back centuries. In fact, the first poet laureate was chosen in England in 1616. However, the practice of honoring talented poets reaches back even farther—all the way to ancient Greece.
The word “laureate” comes from a tradition held by both the Greeks and Romans. They recognized great achievement with a crown made from the branches of a laurel tree. This type of tree represented Apollo, the patron god of poetry.
What does a poet laureate do? In England, they are part of the royal household. Their main job is to write poems for special occasions.
In 1936, the United States created a similar position. It was first called the “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.” This was changed to “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry” in 1986. In the U.S., the poet laureate is chosen by the Librarian of Congress.
Each year, the American poet laureate gives a lecture. At this event, they also read from their poetry. Poet laureates can also invite other poets to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. They are also able to work on special projects.
What might these special projects include? Each poet laureate gets to set their own priorities. For example, Gwendolyn Brooks focused on encouraging children to write poetry. Maxine Kumin started poetry workshops for women. The position gives poets the chance to do work important to the world of poetry.
Can you name any poets laureate? Maybe you know the name Rita Dove—the youngest person and first Black woman named to the position in the U.S. Perhaps you’ve read the works of Juan Felipe Herrara, the first American Latinx poet laureate. A few other well-known names include Conrad Aiken, Billy Collins, and Natasha Trethewey.
Joy Harjo is another highly celebrated U.S. poet laureate. A member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, she became the first poet laureate of American Indian heritage in 2019. Harjo is also an artist, musician, and activist. Creek stories and customs influence her work.
Of course, many U.S. states have their own poets laureate. People in these positions may write poetry for special state occasions. Since 2017, the U.S. has also had a yearly National Youth Poet Laureate. The first one was Amanda Gorman. Gorman is also the youngest poet ever to read her work at a presidential inauguration.
Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.2, CCRA. SL. 6, CCRA.R.5, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.5, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3