Press contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Public contact: (202) 707-5394/5

For release June 21, 2001

Librarian of Congress Appoints Billy Collins Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the appointment of Billy Collins to be the Library's eleventh Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. He will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library's annual literary series in October with a reading of his work. Mr. Collins succeeds Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Mark Strand, Joseph Brodsky, Mona Van Duyn, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, and Stanley Kunitz.

Of his appointment, Dr. Billington said, "Billy Collins's poetry is widely accessible. He writes in an original way about all manner of ordinary things and situations with both humor and a surprising contemplative twist. We look forward to his energizing presence next year."

Billy Collins's books of poetry include Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998); The Art of Drowning (1995), a Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize finalist; Questions About Angels (1991), a National Poetry Series selection by Edward Hirsch; The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988); Video Poems (1980); and Pokerface (1977). His next collection of poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room, is scheduled for release this fall from Random House.

His honors include fellowships at the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been awarded the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, and the Levinson Prize ? all awarded by Poetry magazine. He is a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he has taught for the past 30 years. He is also a writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College, and served as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library. He lives in Somers, New York.

Author E. Annie Proulx has remarked, "I have never before felt possessive about a poet, but I am fiercely glad that Billy Collins is ours ? smart, his strings tuned and resonant, his -over- wonderful eye looping over the things, events and ideas of the world, rueful, playful, warm-voiced, easy to love."

"Billy Collins writes lovely poems," writes John Updike. "Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides."

Background of the Laureateship

The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, in order to permit incumbents to work on their own projects while at the Library. Each brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library's publication of that period Quarterly Journal during his tenure and edited the compilation Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944. Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Poetry Room.

Increasingly in recent years, the incumbents have sought to find new ways to broaden the role of poetry in our national life. Maxine Kumin initiated a popular women's series of poetry workshops at the Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places ? supermarkets, hotels, airports, and hospitals. Rita Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library's literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets, and a two-day conference, "Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora," featuring panel discussions, readings, and music. Robert Hass sponsored a major conference on nature writing, "Watershed," which continues today as a national poetry competition for elementary and high school students called "River of Words." Most recently, Robert Pinsky initiated his Favorite Poem Project, which energized a nation of poetry readers to share their favorite poems in readings across the country and in audio and video recordings. Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate

Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below:

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 Kuminl, 1981-82
Anthony Hecht, 1982-84
Robert Fitzgerald, 1984-85, Appointed and served in a health- limited capacity, but did not come to 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, 1997-2000
Stanley Kunitz, 2000-2001

The poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is 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 and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the appreciation of good literature to a larger audience. The Poetry and Literature Center administers the series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (December 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series, plans other special literary events during the reading season, and usually introduces the programs.

# # #

PR 01-090
6-20-01
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top