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Poetry and Literature

The Library of Congress > Poetry & Literature > Current Poet Laureate > About the Position
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Archer HuntingtonArcher Milton Huntington

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.

The Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and serves from September to May. The position has existed under two separate titles: from 1937 to 1986 as "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress" and from 1986 forward as "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry." The name was changed by an act of Congress in 1985.

The Laureate receives a $35,000 annual stipend funded by a gift from Archer M. Huntington. 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 a reading to open the Library’s annual poetry series and a lecture to conclude the 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 literary writers to the Library to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.

Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature

Begun in 1943 when Allen Tate was Consultant in Poetry to the Library, the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature now contains recordings of over 2,000 poets reading their own work. It includes recordings of poetry readings and other literary events held at the Library, tapes of poets reading their poems in the Library's Recording Laboratory or elsewhere for the Archive, and recordings received through occasional gifts, exchanges, or purchases. Individuals interested in recordings by particular authors may search them in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Appointments to listen to audio recordings may be made by visiting the Library's Recorded Sound Reference Center or by telephoning ahead at (202)707-7833. Appointments to view video recordings may be made by visiting the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room or by telephoning ahead at (202)707-8572.

History of the Poetry Consultantship

Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg in the Library of Congress' Whittall Pavilion, May 2, 1960Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg in the Library's Whittall Pavilion, May 2, 1960

Those interested in reading a more detailed history of the poetry consultantship at the Library of Congress should refer to William McGuire's Poetry's Catbird Seat: The Consultantship in Poetry in the English Language at the Library of Congress, 1937-1987 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1988.

Each Laureate brings a different emphasis to the position. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Maxine Kumin started a popular series of poetry workshops for women at the Library of Congress. Gwendolyn Brooks met with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Rita Dove brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists. She also championed children's poetry and jazz with poetry events. Robert Hass organized the "Watershed" conference that brought together noted novelists, poets and storytellers to talk about writing, nature and community.