All the Nation's Poet

Robert Penn Warren, already much laureled, takes on a new title

For almost 210 years, the U.S. has muddled along without an official poet laureate. This lack did not noticeably hinder the work of such natives as Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Frost and Robert Lowell. But it bothered Hawaiian Senator Spark Matsunaga, an avid reader and sometimes writer of poems, including one called Ode to a Traffic Light ("Impartial traffic cop/ That blushingly speeding cars do stop . . .").

From the moment Matsunaga entered Congress, as a member of the House in 1963, he began a lonely but determined campaign to create a national poetic license. Last year he...

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