Poets Laureate are appointed as an honorary representative in their country, region, or group and often represent an eminent writer of their time. Laureates capture prominent moments or moods for nations, using the power of poetry to capture history in a way that pure facts cannot. They act as ambassadors for poetry, often leaving a rich legacy dedicated to furthering the appreciation and awareness of poetry.
Some countries, such as England, have a long standing history of poets laureate that dates back to the 17th century, other countries have adopted the tradition in more contemporary ways, with Barbados appointing their first laureate in 2018. You can find out more about countries around the world and their laureates on Wikipedia.
In England, the title Poets Laureate dates all the way back to the 1600s, with Ben Jonson being the first poet appointed by the Royal Household in 1616. As explained in this article by palatinate.org.uk:
The title of Poet Laureate is one that makes its holder a salaried member of the royal household. The first instance of a poet being appointed in such a way in England was in the 17th century, when Ben Jonson was granted a pension by James I in 1616. Laureateship became official in 1668, and it was decided that it was an office that must always be filled. The first official Poet Laureate was John Dryden, a man so influential in his era that it has been termed ‘The Age of Dryden’. He was appointed after his poem ‘Annus Mirabilis’, a poem commemorating the year 1666 as one of great tragedy, proved successful.
Traditionally, the English Laureateship was held for life, however in 1999 this changed with Andrew Motion accepting the title on a ten year term, during Motion’s tenure as Poets Laureate he co-founded The Poetry Archive.
In the United States, the Library of Congress is responsible for the appointing the official Laureate, however many states also have Laureates to represent their region.
Over the years, The Poetry Archive has had the great pleasure to record many Poets Laureate from around the English speaking world which we have brought together in our dedicated Laureate Collection. We have a large representation of English, US and New Zealand Laureates, and a smaller selection of Laureates from other nations. We are always looking to add to our collections and hope to continue to grow our representation of work by Laureates.