US Poets Laureate: A Literary And Cultural History

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US Poets Laureate: A Literary And Cultural History

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Title: US Poets Laureate: A Literary And Cultural History
Author: Holland, Toni M.
Abstract: In 1985 the US Congress changed the title of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which was created in 1937, to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The significance in the change is a signal to enhance awareness of American poetry to the general reading public. This dissertation is an initial look at these poets who from a government-sponsored platform represent American letters. The high profile of the position allows for a means by which the role of the poet is performed as an ambassador of poetry. Who is selected to represent the nation, how each laureate's work is situated within contemporary poetry, and the ways in which each executes tenure of the appointment reflects how Congress has positioned the post as the "nation's lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans." There are three ways by which the dissertation critiques this appointment. Chapter one examines announcements of the appointments made by the Librarian of Congress and responses to them by journalists and poets. It shows an overall portrait of who has been chosen and why and addresses some of the ways in which the appointments have eclipsed particular demographics. Common themes that emerged in reviews of laureate's work grouped laureates within distinctive discussions of contemporary poetics. Chapter two addresses how Robert Penn Warren, Howard Nemerov, Richard Wilbur, Mona VanDuyn, and Donald Hall wrote metrical verse in decades that deemed non-metrical composition more fashionable. Their continuity of a more traditional formalism influences New Formalism and Expansionist poetics. The case of VanDuyn indicates that a gendering of metrical verse that took place in the 1960s and 70s has been particularly challenging to the woman writer who sought to critique culture from within the more traditionally received poetic forms. Chapter three addresses the ways in which the work of Charles Simic, Joseph Brodsky, Ted Kooser, Mark Strand, Stanley Kunitz, and Robert Hass informs relationships between self and place. The laureateship reflects aesthetics from a sense of regional to international place. Chapter four addresses the ways in which Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, Louise Glück, and Kay Ryan forge poetic identities and signatures. Chapter five investigates poetry programs laureates have founded either before or during tenure: Kunitz (Poets House, Fine Arts Work Center), Brodsky (free mass distribution of poetry books), Kooser (American Life in Poetry), Hass (River of Words/Watershed Project), Rita Dove (the town hall meeting), Robert Pinsky (Favorite Poem Project), and Billy Collins (Poetry 180). The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry has culled preeminent women and men of American letters. This project requires sustained attention as there are newly appointed laureates every year or two. Continued critique of the appointments will document the ways in which the Library of Congress identifies the "poetic impulse" of Americans as well as the ways in which poetry programming reaches diverse communities.
Date: 2012-04-11

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