Q After my blathe on kunitz, someone asked me "What exactly is the 'Poet Laureate'?"

That is a very interesting question.

The short answer, I suppose, is "distinguished poet," or, because there is only one at a time, "most distinguished" one.

The short answer, though, is woefully incomplete and as uniformative as the "poet laureate" title itself.

In the US, the position now called that of "poet laureate" was established in 1937. The choice of the US poet laureate has always been in the hands of the Librarian of Congress.

The US poet laureates are formally appointed for a term of one year, but
commonly the appointment of a laureate has been renewed once. In one case, that of Robert Pinsky, whose service just ended, the appointment was renewed twice. Stanley Kunitz, whose second time in the position just started, is the first one to serve for two different periods separated by some years.

US poet laureates have been chosen on the basis of distinguished poetry
and willingness to spend some effort promoting reading and writing poetry as worthwhile for the country.

Until 1986, the title of the US poet laureate was "Consultant in Poetry
to the Library of Congress." This was hardly a title that warmed the hearts of the masses. Then somebody decided that calling this person "the Poet Laureate of the United States" would add to the prestige and honor of the office, even if most of the masses would have no idea what that title means or the person with it is supposed to be or do.

This new title was in imitation of the United Kingdom, which has had a "poet laureate" since 1668. However, the status and role of the British poet laureate differ considerably from those of the US counterpart.

In the UK the term "laureate" carries with it a connotation of "being so
good that one has the royal majesty's approval and attention." In the
UK the poet laureate is, and from the beginning has been, in effect part
of the monarch's court. In the US, the poor poet laureate is merely an
appointee of the Librarian of Congress, a relatively low-level official and one who works for the Congress, not the President, the closest thing the US has to royalty. In the UK it has always been clear that the poet laureate works for the monarch. In the US the notion has been that the poet laureate works for the people.

The British laureates, until the latest one, had lifetime appointments. With the appointment of the latest one, the 19th, in 1999, the term was changed to 10 years.

The British laureates are formally chosen by the prime minister with the
monarch's approval. Traditionally they have been chosen, like their US
counterparts, in part on the basis of their arguably distinguished work as poets. The British laureates also, at least in more recent times, have been expected to promote reading and writing poetry as worthwhile for the realm and so have been appointed in part on the basis of their willingness to do so.

However, from the beginning the British laureates have had one formal responsibility: to write poems to celebrate significant events in the
royal family's or the realm's life that the monarch wants to have portrayed as happy or good ones, even if in reality or the laureate's view they are not. These events include royal births, birthdays and marriages as well as victories in wars, triumphs over pestilence, and the like. Over the last 200 years or so, this obligation, that cannot be avoided by the laureate, has caused many of the best British poets to decline offers to be appointed to the
post. US laureates have had no similar duty.

It does seem it was a foolish error for the US to follow the UK with the title "poet laureate." Whatever "poet laureate" means in the US, it certainly does not mean what it does in the UK. A better title in the US would be something like "distinguished national poet." Then at least a few people might know what the position is about.

? Well, then who is/are the
poet laureate(s) of blather?
what's it to you?
who go