What Is a Poet Laureate? | Poets Laureate

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Poets Laureate of England

The tradition of employing a poet as "poet laureate" began with the royalty of England in the 16th century. Poets laureate held an official position in the royal court. The first poets laureate composed poems for official royal birthdays and wrote an annual New Year's eve ode. In the 19th century, the position became less of a job and more of an honor to encourage the work of a well-known poet. The English tradition has continued to this day.

 

Poets Laureate of the United States

The United States began its own tradition of assigning a poet laureate in 1938. Billy Collins is the nation's current poet laureate. He encourages the reading of poetry in schools through his "Poetry 180" program. Through the program, a poem is read aloud daily over a school's intercom. Billy hopes that the listener will, sooner or
later, discover his or her favorite poem or poet in the process.

 

Poets Laureate of South Carolina

Before the United States began its tradition of the poet laureate, South Carolina had a tradition of employing a poet as a symbol of our state's literary heritage. The poets laureate of South Carolina are paid little, currently only $1,500 a year. They have few responsibilities, as they are expected to compose or recite poetry for only a handful of official state occasions. But they do serve an important role. A person who is chosen as poet laureate has dedicated his or her life to writing poetry. All of our laureates have written and published numerous poems in books and magazines. They have introduced poetry to students in South Carolina schools. And, most importantly, they all have a love of South Carolina which they communicate through their poetry!