U.S. Poets Laureate past and present, from top left: Charles Simic, Kay Ryan, Robert Pinsky, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins, Mark Strand, and Richard Wilbur at center. Photos by Richard Drew, Christina Koci Hernandez, Emma Dodge Hanson, Associated Press, Steven Kovich, Emily Mott, and Stathis Orphanos.
Clearing the sill of the world, the 28th annual Key West Literary Seminar, will feature a cast of poets including seven past and present United States Poets Laureate. The office, appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress since 1937, exists to "raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry," and serve as "the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans."
Joining us in Key West next January are Richard Wilbur, Laureate from 1987-1988 under Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, who called him "a poet for us all, whose elegant words brim with wit and paradox. He is also a poet’s poet, at home in the long tradition and traveled ways of the great poets of our language." Maxine Kumin, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, served as Laureate from 1981-1982, where she was noted for a popular series of poetry workshops for women she started at the Library of Congress. Mark Strand, whose most recent work is Man and Camel, served from 1990-1991. His work has earned Pulitzer and Bollingen prizes and has been called by Octavio Paz "the opening to a transparent verbal perfection." Robert Pinsky, currently the poetry editor at Slate, served an unprecedented three terms as Laureate, from 1997-2000. While in office, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, which documents thousands of Americans of diverse occupations, education, and backgrounds reading and talking about the poems they love. Billy Collins served two terms as Laureate, from 2001-2003, and founded Poetry 180, a teaching aid for high school students based on the belief that "poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race." Collins has joined us for the Seminar nearly every year since he left office, and is an annual favorite of the students who join us from Key West High School. Charles Simic, a Yugoslavian immigrant who later served in the U.S. Army, is a MacArthur Fellow, a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. He was appointed Poet Laureate in August of 2007, on the same day he received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, for "outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry." The current Poet Laureate is Kay Ryan, winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from The Poetry Foundation and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award. Of her work, Ryan has said "An almost empty suitcase-that’s what I want my poems to be. A few things. The reader starts taking them out, but they keep multiplying."
You can learn more about these and the other poets joining us in January by visiting our speakers page, which contains biographical information and links to resources like interviews and audio recordings from around the web. To learn more about the office of Poet Laureate, visit the Library of Congress.
Update: We’ve added an eighth Laureate: Rita Dove.