What is the Role of a Poet Laureate?

To commemorate the subject of today’s discussion, let’s commence this Wonder with a poem:

Wonderopolis is our given name,

And curiosity is our preferred game.

In this Wonder for which you came,

There is an abundance of poetic acclaim.

What are your thoughts? Should we adhere to our current occupation? Or are we destined for greatness? Perhaps we will become the next poet laureate!

A poet laureate is a prestigious title that has existed for centuries. In fact, the first poet laureate was appointed in England in 1616. However, the practice of honoring talented poets extends even further back to ancient Greece.

The term “laureate” originates from a tradition observed by both the Greeks and Romans. They acknowledged extraordinary achievements by adorning individuals with a crown made from the branches of a laurel tree. This particular tree symbolized Apollo, the patron god of poetry.

So, what exactly does a poet laureate do? In England, they are affiliated with the royal household. Their primary responsibility is to compose poems for special occasions.

In 1936, the United States established a similar position known as the “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.” This title was later modified to “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry” in 1986. In the U.S., the poet laureate is chosen by the Librarian of Congress.

Every year, the American poet laureate delivers a lecture. During this event, they also recite their own poetry. Poet laureates also have the authority to invite other poets to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. They are also able to engage in special projects.

What might these special projects entail? Each poet laureate has the freedom to establish their own priorities. For instance, Gwendolyn Brooks focused on promoting poetry writing among children. Maxine Kumin initiated poetry workshops for women. This position provides poets with the opportunity to undertake meaningful work within the realm of poetry.

Can you name any poets laureate? You may be familiar with the name Rita Dove, who became the youngest individual and the first Black woman appointed to the position in the U.S. Perhaps you’ve read the works of Juan Felipe Herrara, the first American Latinx poet laureate. Other notable names include Conrad Aiken, Billy Collins, and Natasha Trethewey.

Joy Harjo is another highly esteemed U.S. poet laureate. As 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 greatly influence her work.

Of course, many U.S. states have their own poets laureate. Individuals in these positions may compose poetry for special state events. Since 2017, the U.S. has also had an annual National Youth Poet Laureate. The inaugural recipient was Amanda Gorman, who is also the youngest poet to ever recite her work at a presidential inauguration.

Do you have a favorite poet? Do you enjoy writing haikus, acrostics, and other forms of poetry? If so, perhaps one day your name could join the list of poets laureate!

Give It a Try

Are you ready to unleash your inner poet? Enlist the help of a friend or family member for these activities:

  • Reflect on your day or current emotions. What thoughts and mental images arise? Are you feeling happy, excited, or anxious? Compose a poem expressing your emotions and share it with a friend or family member.
  • You may be familiar with limericks or nursery rhymes, which are different forms of poetry. But have you ever heard of sonnets or stevs? Explore this link to learn about various poetic forms from around the world. Share the most intriguing one with a friend or family member.
  • Gather some books and engage in book spine poetry! Using books from your own collection, enlist the help of a friend or family member and follow these instructions to create surprising and captivating poems.

References for Further Exploration

  • https://www.loc.gov/programs/poetry-and-literature/poet-laureate/poet-laureate-history/ (accessed 02 Aug. 2021)
  • https://poets.org/united-states-poet-laureate (accessed 02 Aug. 2021)
  • https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/joy-harjo (accessed 02 Aug. 2021)
  • https://www.britannica.com/art/poet-laureate (accessed 02 Aug. 2021)
  • https://learnersdictionary.com (accessed 02 Aug. 2021)


1. What is the role of a Poet Laureate?

A Poet Laureate is an official poet appointed by a government or organization to represent and promote the art of poetry. Their primary role is to create and share poetry that reflects the cultural and social values of their country or community. They often write poems for special occasions, such as national events or important ceremonies, and serve as a literary ambassador, promoting poetry and literature through public appearances and educational programs.

2. How is a Poet Laureate chosen?

The process of selecting a Poet Laureate varies depending on the country or organization. In some cases, a panel of experts or literary professionals review the work of potential candidates and make a recommendation to the government or organization responsible for the appointment. In other cases, there may be a public nomination process or the position may be awarded based on an individual’s contributions to the literary community. Ultimately, the final decision rests with the appointing authority.

3. What are the qualifications to become a Poet Laureate?

The qualifications to become a Poet Laureate can vary, but generally, candidates should have a significant body of published work, including poetry collections and individual poems. They should also have demonstrated a commitment to the literary community through their involvement in literary organizations, teaching, or mentoring other poets. Additionally, candidates should possess excellent communication and public speaking skills, as the role often involves engaging with the public and promoting poetry through various channels.

4. What are the responsibilities of a Poet Laureate?

The responsibilities of a Poet Laureate typically include writing and performing poetry for public events, such as official ceremonies, national celebrations, and memorial services. They may be asked to create poems that commemorate significant events or honor important figures. Poet Laureates also often engage in outreach activities, such as visiting schools, universities, and community centers to promote poetry and inspire others to explore their own creative writing. They may also be involved in judging literary competitions and advising on matters related to poetry and literature.

5. How long does a Poet Laureate serve?

The term of a Poet Laureate varies depending on the country or organization. In some cases, the appointment is for a specific number of years, typically ranging from two to ten years. In other cases, the position may be held for life or until the poet voluntarily steps down. The length of the term often reflects the appointing authority’s desire for continuity and stability in the role, as well as the poet’s willingness to serve.

6. Can a Poet Laureate be removed from their position?

In most cases, a Poet Laureate serves their term without the risk of being removed from the position. However, if a Poet Laureate engages in behavior that is deemed inappropriate or goes against the values or objectives of the appointing authority, they may be asked to step down or have their appointment terminated. This is a rare occurrence, as Poet Laureates are typically chosen for their talent, dedication, and positive contributions to the literary community.

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