What in the world is a Poet Laureate


Shawn Miller/Library of Congress

Joy Harjo is the current Poet Laureate for the United States and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She started her position in the fall of 2019.

The United States, among other countries, has an appointed position for  someone to compose poems for special events. What exactly is this called? Poet Laureate. 

There have been 23 Poet Laureates in the United States since the title was changed in 1986 from “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress” to “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.” Annually, they receive a stipend of $35,000 and $5,000 for travel expenses. 

Each Poet Laureate is annually appointed by the Librarian of Congress, who receives input from staff and current and past appointees. Wanting to promote artistic freedom, the Library of Congress requires a small amount of duties from the Poet Laureate. 

“The poet laureate gives an annual lecture and reading of his or her poetry and usually introduces poets in the Library’s annual poetry series,” the Library of Congress’ website states.

Joy Harjo is the current Poet Laureate and the first Native American one. She has won many awards for her works, such as the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation.

“A story matrix connects all of us. There are rules, processes and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part,” Harjo wrote in her memoir ‘Crazy Brave.’

For more information on Poet Laureates, check out the Library of Congress’ website.