North Carolina Poet Laureate’s Resignation Draws Attention to Importance of Laureateship
July 30, 2014
The swift resignation of North Carolina’s recently appointed poet laureate Valerie Macon this month, whose appointment caused uproar in the state’s literary community, has drawn the attention of the reading public to the purpose and importance of state poets. As New York Times writer Jennifer Schuessler pointed out, “The brouhaha was a chance to ask a more basic question: Just who are America’s state poet[s]... and what do they do anyway?”
Since 1937, the Library of Congress (LOC) has appointed honorees each year for the national poet laureate position, which carries a $35,000 annual stipend per year over a two-year term. According to the LOC’s website, the duties of the state poet laureate vary from state to state, but generally include the “promoting of reading, writing, and poetry” among the general public through whichever ways they see fit, such as through poetry readings, workshops, or visits to local schools.
Over the years, laureate positions—including those administered by independent arts organizations—have proliferated, and different poets have taken their leadership roles in diverse directions. Some poets have promoted the art form by giving readings and workshops in areas of “literary need,” including prisons, military bases, homeless shelters, and, as Idaho’s current writer in residence Diane Raptos has done, a moving school bus; others, such as California’s laureate Juan Felipe Herrera have used technology to bridge the gap, calling for contributions to “The Most Incredible and Biggest Poem on Unity in the World” via email, Facebook, and Twitter (which will be read at the California Unity Poem Fiesta in Riverside this October); and still others have organized projects that engage the public in a kind of communion with a poet, such as Marie Howe, the New York State laureate, who organized “The Poet Is In.”