April 5, 1999 Librarian of Congress Makes Unprecedented Poetry Appointments

Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

In preparation for the Bicentennial year of the Library of Congress in 2000, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced a "once-in-a-century" series of appointments for the Library's poetry program.

The Librarian has named the current Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, to serve an unprecedented third term as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. In addition, the Librarian has named three Special Consultants to assist with the poetry programs of the Bicentennial Year. The three Special Consultants are former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Louise Glück, and W.S. Merwin. They will be compensated by privately raised Bicentennial funds.

"We want to create a once-in-a-century arrangement, not only to celebrate poetry during our 200th birthday, but also to significantly increase support for the national outreach of the Poetry Office and the Poet Laureate," said Dr. Billington.

"The three Special Consultants are all poets of great distinction," Dr. Billington added, "who, in addition to participating in our Bicentennial poetry events, will strengthen the Library's poetry program to meet the demands now expected of it." All appointments will take effect in October 1999.

"Robert Pinsky is well suited to be the first Poet Laureate to serve three consecutive terms. His Favorite Poem Project has captured the imagination of young and old across the nation and heightened awareness of the Library of Congress's role as the home of America's poetry archives and its Poets Laureate," said the Librarian, who first appointed Mr. Pinsky in 1997 and reappointed him in 1998. Mr. Pinsky is the ninth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry and the 39th person to occupy the seat.

Mr. Pinsky will continue to direct the popular Favorite Poem Project, which has for the past two years been collecting audio and video recordings of Americans from all parts of the country reading or reciting aloud a favorite poem. In April of 2000, which is the Library's Bicentennial and National Poetry Month, 1,000 audio and 200 video recordings will be presented to the Library. The Favorite Poem archives will be one of the Library's Bicentennial "Gifts to the Nation," and will illustrate what poetry means to Americans from many walks of life at the end of the century.

The presentation will be made during a special Bicentennial conference on "Poetry and the American People: Reading, Performance, and Publication." The conference will be held April 3-4, 2000, at the Library of Congress, and will include readings by the Special Consultants and the Poet Laureate.

The tapes created for the Favorite Poem Project will become part of the Library of Congress's extensive Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, which includes readings by more than 2,000 poets during the second half of the 20th century.

Mr. Pinsky teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Boston University. His collections of poetry include Sadness and Happiness (1975); An Explanation of America (1979), awarded the Saxifrage Prize; History of My Heart (1983), which won the William Carlos Williams Prize; The Want Bone (1990); and The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1965- 1995, which won the Lenore Marshall Prize. The anthology The Handbook of Heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow and The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide were published recently.

Ms. Dove, who was 1993-95 Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia; her most recent book is On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999). Her other works include the poetry collections Grace Notes (1989); Selected Poems (1993); Mother Love (1995); the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992); and the verse play The Darker Face of the Earth (1994), which will open at the Royal National Theatre in London this summer. In 1987, her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986) won the Pulitzer Prize. Ms. Dove most recently was honored with the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, the 1996 Charles Frankel Prize/National Medal in the Humanaties, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award and the 1998 Levinson Prize.

Ms. Glück, who has appeared in the Library's literary series on several occasions, including as the winner of the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, is Preston S. Parish Third Century Lecturer in English at Williams College. She most recently taught at Harvard and at Brandeis University, where she was Hurst Professor. Her collections of poetry include The Triumph of Achilles (1985), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the Boston Globe Literary Press Award for Poetry, and the Poetry Society of America's Melville Kane Award; Ararat (1990), which won the 1992 Bobbitt Prize; The Wild Iris (1992), which won the Pulitzer Prize; Meadowlands (1996); and Vita Nova (1999). She is also author of Descending Figure (1980).

Mr. Merwin, whose most recent appearance at the Library was in 1997, is the author of the collections The Carrier of Ladders (1970), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize; The Compass Flower (1977); The Rain in the Trees (1988); The Vixen (1996); Flower & Hand: Poems, 1977-1983 (1997); and The River Sound (1999). His translations include Selected Translations 1948-1968 (1968), for which he won the PEN Translation Prize; Osip Mandelstam, Selected Poems (1974, with Clarence Brown); Iphigeneia at Aulis of Euripides, with George Dimock (1978); Vertical Poetry, a selection of poems by Roberto Juarroz (1988); and Sun at Midnight, a selection of poems by Mnuso Soseki, translated with Soiku Shigematsu (1989).

Fact Sheet Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress

  • The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and serves from October to May.
  • In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with former Consultants and Laureates, the current Laureate and distinguished poetry critics.
  • The position has existed for 61 years under two separate titles: from 1937 to 1986 as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and from 1986 forward as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The name was changed by an act of Congress in 1985.
  • The Laureate receives a $35,000 annual stipend funded by a gift from Archer M. Huntington.
  • The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties in order to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. The Laureate gives an annual lecture and reading of his or her poetry and usually introduces poets in the Library's annual poetry series, 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. Collectively the Laureates have brought more than 2,000 poets and authors to the library to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
  • Each Laureate brings a different emphasis to the position. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Maxine Kumin started a popular series of poetry workshops for women at the Library of Congress. Gwendolyn Brooks met with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Rita Dove brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists. She also championed children's poetry and jazz with poetry events. Robert Hass organized the "Watershed" conference that brought together noted novelists, poets and storytellers to talk about writing, nature and community.
  • The current Laureate, Robert Pinsky, is selecting a broad cross section of Americans reading their favorite poems aloud as part of the Library's Bicentennial. In the year 2000, when the Library celebrates its 200th birthday, 200 video and 1,000 audio tapes of poetry readings will be added to the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature as one of the Library's birthday "Gifts to the Nation."

Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry to the Library of Congress

  • Joseph Auslander 1937-41 (Auslander's appointment to the Poetry chair had no fixed term)
  • 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 Kumin - 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 (First to serve three consecutive terms. Special Consultants in 1999-2000: Rita Dove, Louise Glück, and W.S. Merwin)


PR 99-043
ISSN 0731-3527