Or maybe I should say, “Hwaet! We have a Poet Laureate!” because this issue came up today in Medieval Lit class as we discussed the relative importance of poetry among the Anglo-Saxons, where a significant battle is reported in an official historical record in epic poetry—the Battle of Brunanburh (listen to Michael Drout read it aloud!)—compared to 21st c. North America, where most of my students didn’t even know that the United States has a poet laureate or, if we have one, what she or he does.
Apparently the first official U.S. poet laureate was Robert Penn Warren, in 1986.
he spent his tenure overseeing the library’s poetry collection. Subsequent laureates have used the position to broaden the reach of poetry in America. Joseph Brodsky championed poetry in public places; Robert Hass started an annual student competition; Billy Collins launched a website with a poem for every day of the school year
Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem project is a continuing resource for poetry aloud.
England has had an official poet laureate since the 17th century, some of them quite well-known.