Poets Laureate

A Poet Laureate is a poet, officially appointed by a government, who is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events. In 1937 the United States Library of Congress began appointing an official Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. In 1985 an Act of Congress changed the name of the position to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

Current Poet Laureate:

Tracy K. Smith

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2015 - 2017

Juan Felipe Herrera

A native of California, Juan Felipe Herrera has written more than two dozen books.

2014 - 2015

Charles Wright

A native of Tennessee, Charles Wright has written two dozen books of poetry.

2012 - 2014

Natasha Trethewey

A native of Mississippi, Natasha Trethewey served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the United States from 2012 to 2014.

2011 - 2012

Philip Levine

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Aware, Philip Levine was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress in August 2011. Levine's poetry has been set to music by American composers such as Fred Cohen.

Photo Credit: Geoffrey Berliner, courtesy of the Library of Congress

2010 - 2011

W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin is a prolific writer of poetry, plays, criticism, and prose. He served twice in the position of Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress.

Photo: W. S. Merwin, photo by Matt Valentine, courtesy of the Library of Congress

2008 - 2010

Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan served as Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010. She was named a 2011 MacArthur Fellow. There are no known settings of her poetry by American composer at this time.

Photo: Kay Ryan, from Houston's Outsmartmagazine.com, courtesy of the Library of Congress

2007 - 2008

Charles Simic

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Charles Simic served as Poet Laureate from 2007 to 2008. His poetry has been set to music by American composers such as Robert Carl and Jay Vosk.

Photo: Charles Simic, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

2006 - 2007

Donald Hall

Donald Hall served as Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2007. His poetry has been set to music by William Bolcom in his work Simple Stories, for soprano solo and chorus, as well as his song cycle Three Donald Hall Songs for voice and small ensemble.

Photo: Donald Hall, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

2004 - 2006

Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser served as Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. His poetry has been set to music by composers such as Stephen Paulus, Paul Moravec and Randall Snyder.

Photo: Ted Kooser, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

2003 - 2004

Louise Glück

Louise Glück has twice served as the Poet Laureate of the United States. Her poetry has been set by many American composers, including Hayes Biggs and John Harbison.

Photo: Louise Glück, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

2001 - 2003

Billy Collins

Billy Collins served two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States, from 2001 to 2003. Collins' poetry has been set to music by American composers such as Allan Blank, Tom Cipullo and Libby Larsen. Collins has been described as the "most popular poet in America" because of his witty and humorous poetry, often written with a conversational tone.

Photo: Billy Collins, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

The recording of "Desire," provided in the audio playlist to the right, is made possible through a collaboration with SongFest. The performers are Matthew Morris, baritone, and Sungha Lee, pianist, and the performance took place on June 19, 2010 at Pepperdine University.

2000 - 2001

Stanley Kunitz

At the age of 95, Stanley Kunitz served as Poet Laureate (from 2000 to 2001). His poetry has been set by several American composers, including Milton Babbitt, Tom Cipullo, Ricky Ian Gordon, Louis Karchin, and Charles Wuorinen. Kunitz wrote: "Poetry is the for the sake of life."

Photo: Stanley Kunitz, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1999 - 2000

Rita Dove

Rita Dove is the second African American to have served as Poet Laureate of the United States. She held that position from 1993 to 1995 and then again during the Bicentennial. Her poetry has been set to music numerous times, including settings by Tania Léon, Alvin Singleton, John Williams, and Amnon Wolman.

Photo: Rita Dove, 2004, photograph by Fred Viebahn

1999 - 2000

W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin is a prolific writer of poetry, plays, criticism, and prose. He served twice in the position of Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress.

Photo: W. S. Merwin, photo by Matt Valentine, courtesy of the Library of Congress

1999 - 2000

Louise Glück

Louise Glück has twice served as the Poet Laureate of the United States. Her poetry has been set by many American composers, including Hayes Biggs and John Harbison.

Photo: Louise Glück, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1997 - 2000

Robert Pinsky

Founder of the "Favorite Poem" project and a former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, Robert Pinsky is a celebrated poet and critic, dedicated to promotion of the sonic value and pure enjoyment of poetry.

Photo: Robert Pinsky, photo by Jared C. Benedict, 2005, public domain

1995 - 1997

Robert Hass

Robert Hass served as Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997. His poetry has been set to music by American composer Matthew Pace.

Photo: Robert Hass, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1993 - 1995

Rita Dove

Rita Dove is the second African American to have served as Poet Laureate of the United States. She held that position from 1993 to 1995 and then again during the Bicentennial. Her poetry has been set to music numerous times, including settings by Tania Léon, Alvin Singleton, John Williams, and Amnon Wolman.

Photo: Rita Dove, 2004, photograph by Fred Viebahn

1992 - 1993

Mona Van Duyn

Mona Van Duyn served as Poet Laureate from 1991 to 1992. Her poetry has been set to music by American composer Alf Houkom.

Photo: Mona Van Duyn, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1991 - 1992

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky served as Poet Laureate from 1991 to 1992. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987. His poetry has not yet been set to music by American composers, but has been set by European composers such as Olga Neuwirth, Alexandr Raskatov, and Alfred Schnittke.
Photo: Joseph Brodsky, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1990 - 1991

Mark Strand

Mark Strand served as Poet Laureate from 1990 to 1991 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. His poems have been set by John Musto in The Book of Uncommon Prayer and by Daron Aric Hagen in his song cycle Letting Go.

Photo: Mark Strand, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1988 - 1990

Howard Nemerov

Howard Nemerov served twice as Poet Laureate of the United States (1963-1964 and 1988-1990). He also won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov.

Photo: Howard Nemerov, public domain

1987 - 1988

Richard Wilbur

The only poet after Robert Frost to win the Pulitzer Prize twice, Richard Wilbur served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1987-1988. A man full of great faith and belief that "the universe is full of glorious energy," Wilbur was not only a poet but a great translator and teacher.

Photo: Richard Wilbur, Poetry Foundation

1986 - 1987

Robert Penn Warren

Poet Laureate of the United States from 1944 to 1945, Robert Penn Warren's poetry has been set to music by American composer Lee Hoiby as part of Hoiby's song cycle Southern Voices. Carlisle Floyd's opera Willie Stark is based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King's Men (1947).

Photo: Robert Penn Warren, 1968, public domain

1985 - 1986

Gwendolyn Brooks

The first black woman to be appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985, Gwendolyn Brooks was also the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her works are extraordinary in bridging poetic technics and academic writing with political activism and social awareness during the Civil Rights movement in America.

Photo: Gwendolyn Brooks, holding her book "A Street in Bronzeville," circa 1945, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID: cph 3c07993

1984 - 1985

Reed Whittemore

Reed Whittemore served as Poet Laureate from 1964 to 1965 and again from 1984 to 1985. Though there are some choral settings of Reed Whittemore's poetry, there are no known art song settings.

Photo: Reed Whittemore, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1984 - 1985

Robert Fitzgerald

Robert Fitzgerald served as Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1985. His poetry has been set to music by Vincent Persichetti, Marjorie Merryman, and several other American composers.

Photo: Robert Fitzgerald, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1982 - 1984

Anthony Hecht

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967, Anthony Hecht's poetry deals often with dark subjects, such as the Holocaust and World War II, a war in which he served. Notably, his poems have been set as songs by Robert Beazer in his cycle The Seven Deadly Sins of 1979. Hecht's poetry is characterized by its formality, though is subject matter belongs distinctly to the 20th Century.

"Hecht is much like Wallace Stevens in his interest in music 'as a medium and transcendent force,' and he is especially influenced by 'the melodic intricacy of expression...'" (Poetry Foundation)

Photo: Anthony Hecht, 1947, public domain

1981 - 1982

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin served as Poet Laureate from 1981 to 1982. Her poetry has been set to music by American composers Dennis DeSantis and Kathryn Alexander.

Photo: Maxine Kumin, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1978 - 1980

William Meredith

William Meredith served as Poet Laureate from 1978 to 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. His poetry has been set to music by David Leisner as well as several other American composers.

Photo: William Meredith, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1976 - 1978

Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1976 to 1978 and was the first African-American appointed to the position. His poetry has been set by several American composers, including T. J. Anderson, Tom Cipullo, Anthony Davis, Robert Di Domenica, and Frederick Tillis.

Photo: Robert Hayden, public domain

1974 - 1976

Stanley Kunitz

At the age of 95, Stanley Kunitz served as Poet Laureate (from 2000 to 2001). His poetry has been set by several American composers, including Milton Babbitt, Tom Cipullo, Ricky Ian Gordon, Louis Karchin, and Charles Wuorinen. Kunitz wrote: "Poetry is the for the sake of life."

Photo: Stanley Kunitz, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1973 - 1974

Daniel Hoffman

Daniel Hoffman served as Poet Laureate from 1973 to 1974.

Photo: Daniel Hoffman, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1971 - 1973

Josephine Jacobsen

Josephine Jacobsen served as Poet Laureate from 1971 to 1973. Her poetry has been set to music by Jean Eichelberger Ivey.

Photo: Josephine Jacobsen, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1970 - 1971

William Stafford

William Stafford served as Poet Laureate from 1970 to 1971. His poetry has been set to music by Samuel Adler as well as several other American composers.

Photo: William Stafford, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1968 - 1970

William Jay Smith

William Jay Smith served as Poet Laureate from 1968 to 1970. His poetry has been set to music by Ned Rorem (in What is Pink? for treble voices and piano) and Warren Benson, as well as several other American composers.

Photo: William Jay Smith, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1966 - 1968

James Dickey

James Dickey served as Poet Laureate from 1966 to 1968. His poetry has been set to music by Ronald Perera and John Patrick Thomas.

Photo: James Dickey, public domain

1965 - 1966

Stephen Spender

Stephen Spender served as Poet Laureate form 1965 to 1966. His poetry has been set to music by Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, Nicholas Maw, Samuel Adler, and several other American composers, mostly in choral settings.

Photo: Stephen Spender, public domain

1964 - 1965

Reed Whittemore

Reed Whittemore served as Poet Laureate from 1964 to 1965 and again from 1984 to 1985. Though there are some choral settings of Reed Whittemore's poetry, there are no known art song settings.

Photo: Reed Whittemore, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1963 - 1964

Howard Nemerov

Howard Nemerov served twice as Poet Laureate of the United States (1963-1964 and 1988-1990). He also won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov.

Photo: Howard Nemerov, public domain

1961 - 1963

Louis Untermeyer

Poet Louis Untermeyer, who served as 14th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, was also an editor, anthologist and author.

1959 - 1961

Richard Eberhart

Richard Eberhart served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1959 to 1961. His poetry has been set to music by Samuel Adler, Ned Rorem, Elie Siegmeister, and several other American composers.

Photo: Richard Eberhart, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1958 - 1959

Robert Frost

Robert Frost, four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a Poet Laureate of the United States (from 1958-1959), was a traditional poet who often used form and meter in his poetry while integrating aspects of colloquial American speech into his verse.

Photo: Robert Frost, 1959, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1956 - 1958

Randall Jarrell

Randall Jarrell served as Poet Laureate from 1956 to 1958. His poetry has been set to music by Lowell Liebermann, Ned Rorem, and several other American composers.

Photo: Randall Jarrell, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1952

William Carlos Williams

Devoted to writing poetry using "the language and thought materials of America," Williams lead two careers at the same time: one as a family practice doctor, and the other as a poet. Williams's poetry has been set by many American composers, including Ned Rorem, Frank Lewin, Milton Babbitt, John Harbison, and Lewis Spratlan. Williams' experimentations with meter and foot in poetry inspired many purely musical works, including Steve Reich's large orchestral piece Desert Music.

Photo: William Carlos Williams, 1963, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1950 - 1952

Conrad Aiken

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1930 for his Selected Poems and a National Book Award in 1954 for Collected Poems, Conrad Aiken was a poet and novelist greatly influenced by symbolism and interested in psychology and the musicality of verse.
Image: Conrad Aiken, Poets.org

1949 - 1950

Elizabeth Bishop

Hailed today as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Bishop was a meticulous and observant poet, publishing only 101 poems over the course of her lifetime. She was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956.

Photo: Elizabeth Bishop, 1956, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID: cph 3c17839

1948 - 1949

Léonie Adams

Léonie Adams served as Poet Laureate from 1948 to 1949. Léonie Adams' poetry has been set to music by American composer John Musto, among others.

1947 - 1948

Robert Lowell

Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Lowell was Poet Laureate of the United States from 1947 to 1948. His poetry has been set by Elliott Carter in Carter's song cycle In Sleep, In Thunder for tenor and 14 instrumentalists. Other composers who have set Lowell's poetry include Benjamin Britten, Leon Kirchner, and Leo Smit. Lowell was the founder of the confessionalist movement in poetry.

1946 - 1947

Karl Shapiro

Karl Shapiro's poems have been set by many American composers, including Leonard Lehrman, Ned Rorem, Hugo Weisgall, and Judith Lang Zaimont. Shapiro received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1945 while he was still serving in World War II for his book V-Letter and Other Poems.

Photo: Karl Shapiro, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

1945 - 1946

Louise Bogan

As a reaction to the Imagist movement of her time, Bogan wrote highly formalized poetry, conforming with the traditional English form of verse and meter made popular in the seventeenth century. Bogan was appointed Poet Laureate in 1945.

Photo: Louise Bogan, 1956, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID: cph 3c17841

1944 - 1945

Robert Penn Warren

Poet Laureate of the United States from 1944 to 1945, Robert Penn Warren's poetry has been set to music by American composer Lee Hoiby as part of Hoiby's song cycle Southern Voices. Carlisle Floyd's opera Willie Stark is based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King's Men (1947).

Photo: Robert Penn Warren, 1968, public domain

1943 - 1944

Allen Tate

Allen Tate served as Poet Laureate from 1943 to 1944. He is known for his poem "Ode to the Confederate Dead." His poetry has been set to music by Elliott Carter in Emblems, a work for piano and men's choir.

Photo: Allen Tate, 1979, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

1937 - 1941

Joseph Auslander

Auslander was the first Poet Laureate of the United States, serving from 1937 to 1941.