A Brief History Of: The Poet Laureate

On July 17, Kay Ryan became the 16th U.S. poet Laureate, one of the most coveted positions in American letters. Yet when Senator Spark Matsunaga, himself an amateur poet, pushed Congress to create the post in 1985, the American literary community was appalled. With its roots in 17th century England, where the laureate still writes occasional verses marking royal births and weddings, the title was one that few American poets rushed to adopt. "It's in the field of politics," scoffed Allen Ginsberg. With artists serving renewable eight-month terms, the U.S. "may be down to third-rate poets pretty quickly," quipped A.R. Ammons....

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