Press Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

May 21, 1998

Robert Pinsky Reappointed Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced that Robert Pinsky has accepted his invitation to serve a second year as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

"In his first term, Robert Pinsky has actively encouraged a national renaissance of spoken poetry," said Dr. Billington. "His vision of recording a broad cross section of Americans reading their favorite poems has met with heartfelt enthusiasm throughout the country. The Library looks forward to enriching its unique poetry archives with the recordings he selects in his second term."

Mr. Pinsky said: "I'm happy to do the job another year, and I look forward to continuing work on the Favorite Poem Project with the help and cooperation of the Library."

The Favorite Poem Project is Mr. Pinsky's main undertaking as Laureate. He is choosing 1,200 people to recite their favorite poem on audio and video tape. The 1,000 audio recordings will commemorate the millennium, the 200 video tapes are to be symbolic of the Library's Bicentennial in the year 2000. As one of the Library's cultural "Gifts to the Nation" on its 200th birthday, the tapes will come to rest in the Library's Archive of Recorded Literature on Tape, which has some 2,000 poets and authors reading their work.

"To see many Americans of various ages, accents and professions each saying a poem aloud clarifies the power of poetry and enhances a communal spirit," Mr. Pinsky said. "To some degree, it helps remind us of who we are." The project is supported by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the National Foundation for the Arts and Boston University.

During his first term, Mr. Pinsky offered a lecture at the Library on "Digital Culture and the Individual Soul," brought a range of poets to read at the Library, granted $12,500 in fellowships to poets Carol Muske and Carl Phillips from the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress, and launched his Favorite Poem Project with a five-city public poetry reading and publicity tour. Mr. Pinsky also initiated what he hopes will become a tradition among Laureates, the printing of a poem by a former Laureate in decorative broadside form. At the White House on April 22, President and Mrs. Clinton each read a poem and announced that the Favorite Poem Project would be part of the nation's Millennium Celebration.

Looking back on his first year, Mr. Pinsky said: "It has been a pleasure as well as a busy time to be here. The Library of Congress is the greatest house of memory in the world. There is more human striving recorded and cataloged in this institution than there has ever been anywhere. It is appropriate for a poet to be attached to a place of memory because poetry is an ancient way of enhancing memory, a means that predates writing."

Mr. Pinsky teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Boston University. He is the author of five books of poetry: Sadness and Happiness (1975); An Explanation of America (1979), awarded the Saxifrage Prize as the year's best volume of poetry from a small or university press; History of My Heart (1983), which won the William Carlos Williams Prize; The Want Bone (1990); and The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996 (1996), which was awarded the Leonore Marshall Prize for the best book of poetry published in 1997.

He is the co-translator of The Separate Notebooks, by Czeslaw Milosz (1983). His verse translation of The Inferno of Dante (1994) was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, given by the Academy of American Poets. He is also a recipient of the 1996 Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award.

Mr. Pinsky is the author of three collections of essays: Landor's Poetry (1968), The Situation of Poetry (1977), and Poetry and the World (1988). He was poetry editor of The New Republic through much of the 1980s and is now poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate.

Background of the Laureateship

The Poetry and Literature Center, which administers the poetry series, is also the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Archibald MacLeish, who was Librarian from 1939 to 1944, determined the Consultant in Poetry should be an annual appointment.

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and serves from October to May. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with former Consultants and Laureates, the current Laureate and distinguished poetry critics.

The position has existed for 61 years 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 required 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 annual 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.

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.

Consultants in Poetry and Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry

Joseph Auslander 1937-41  
Allen Tate 1943-44  
Robert Penn Warren 1944-45  
Louise Bogan 1945-46  
Karl Shapiro 1946-47  
Robert Lowell 1947-48  
Leonie Adams 1948-49  
Elizabeth Bishop 1949-50  
Conrad Aiken 1950-52 First to serve two terms
William Carlos Williams   Appointed in 1952 but did not serve
Randall Jarrell 1956-58  
Robert Frost 1958-59  
Richard Eberhart 1959-61  
Louis Untermeyer 1961-63  
Howard Nemerov 1963-64  
Reed Whittemore 1964-65  
Stephen Spender 1965-66  
James Dickey 1966-68  
William Jay Smith 1968-70  
William Stafford 1970-71  
Josephine Jacobsen 1971-73  
Daniel Hoffman 1973-74  
Stanley Kunitz 1974-76  
Robert Hayden 1976-78  
William Meredith 1978-80  
Maxine Kumin 1981-82  
Anthony Hecht 1982-84  
Robert Fitzgerald 1984-85 Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to the LC
Reed Whittemore 1984-85 Interim Consultant in Poetry
Gwendolyn Brooks 1985-86  
Robert Penn Warren 1986-87 First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
Richard Wilbur 1987-88  
Howard Nemerov 1988-90  
Mark Strand 1990-91  
Joseph Brodsky 1991-92  
Mona Van Duyn 1992-93  
Rita Dove 1993-95  
Robert Hass 1995-97  
Robert Pinsky 1997-present  

# # #

PR 98-079
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top