poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

Volume 10:4, Fall 2009

by Dan Vera

The Great Hall at the Library of Congress
The Great Hall in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress
photo credit: Dan Vera

This issue has its origins in two places. One is most certainly the multi-year DC Authors' Houses project that Kim Roberts and I undertook a few years ago. Finding and photographing the houses of writers who called Washington home acquainted me with the Poets Laureate who spent time here in the capital city. A few, like Randall Jarrell relished his time in DC, while others like Elizabeth Bishop, who spent two miserable post-war years here, couldn't wait to leave. But they experienced the city and my interest was piqued. The poetry series I co-curate in Brookland has undertaken the novel experiment of mounting poetry readings once a year featuring the work of these 43 Poets Laureate. These readings have not only served to confirm the lasting worth of many of these poets' work but also managed to instill in me an abiding interest in this diverse group of poets. But this issue would not have taken place without the invitation of Kim Roberts. I owe lasting gratitude for her generosity of spirit, for creating a space to expand my knowledge of these forebears and contemporary poets, and for the welcome excuse to ask others to join me in the effort.

The contributors to this issue have taken time to explore these poets and write of their discoveries. For some, the archival material has been voluminous, and I applaud the herculean efforts to uncover the Washington-centeredness of their subjects. Peter Montgomery's essay on Randall Jarrell's time in DC illuminates the diurnal minutae of what a consultant actually once did in the job and how this poet-critic embraced the city during his term. Christy Zink writes of the precarious challenges of the position for a poet like William Stafford, whose career of conscientious political activism could and did place him at odds with the government. Michael Gushue's anecdotal tour-de-force on Anthony Hecht reveals the humanity of this scholar-poet who made Washington his home before and after his consultantship. Some of these contributors, like Alan King on Charles Simic and Danielle Evennou on Kay Ryan, were faced with the daunting task of commenting on contemporary poets whose recent and current terms are still changing in understanding. They were both able to mine the quicksilver of these dynamic poets to glean their importance to the current state of poetry and their contributions to the position. Rounding out this issue are two archival interviews, one by Grace Cavalieri with Joseph Brodsky and Jean Nordhaus's conversation with Mark Strand. They add the unique element of laureates speaking in situ. The wisdom revealed in these interviews provide a remarkable testament to the intelligence of the choices made by the Library. My contribution has been an essay on the four Laureates Joseph Auslander, William Carlos Williams, James Dickey and Maxine Kumin. Their experiences reveal the Library's evolving relationship with poets appointed to this position.

I have also included links to some earlier poems and essays on or by the Laureates that were part of the Beltway Poetry Archives. Among the older pieces, you will find a rememberance of Mona Van Duyn by Andrea Carter Brown, and selections of multiple poems by Anthony Hecht and Reed Whittemore.

A note on language and usage chosen for these essays. The position we are speaking of has had two names over the years. It was first called Consultant in Poetry. In 1985, by an act of Congress, the position's name was changed. Special note should be made of Senator Spark M. Matsunaga of Hawaii. In 1963, as a freshman congressman, Matsunaga first introduced legislation to create a Laureateship in poetry. For the next 22 years, he would reintroduce the legislation in every session of Congress until its final passage on October 3, 1985. The position, not changed in responsibility or appointment process, was now Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. There always seemed to be some confusion with the title. Although it was a Consultantship, the record seems to show it was always popularly referred to as the Laureate. Matsunaga's change seemed to be a much-needed recognition of what most Americans, if they even know of its existence, considered it. Therefore you will find the terms Consultant and Laureate used interchangeably throughout these pieces. A second point about the institution in question. It is the Library of Congress and in these pages referred to in the capitalized form as the Library. It is not the local branch or a university library. It is by its very nature the nation's library. As such we capitalize it as we would the Capitol.

It is my fervent hope that this issue causes you to explore more of these poets' work. In many ways the Laureates provide a historical framework for understanding the last seventy years of American poetic history. They deserve to be remembered and studied and enjoyed.


Volume 10.4, Fall 2009

Table of Contents

Guest Editor: Dan Vera

1937-1941.......JOSEPH AUSLANDER

Four Laureates by Dan Vera
DC Authors' Houses by Kim Roberts and Dan Vera

1943-1944.......ALLEN TATE

1944-1945.......ROBERT PENN WARREN

1945-1946.......LOUISE BOGAN

1946-1947.......KARL SHAPIRO

1947-1948.......ROBERT LOWELL

"July in Washington" by Robert Lowell

1948-1949.......LÉONIE ADAMS

1949-1950.......ELIZABETH BISHOP

"Visit to St. Elizabeth's" by Elizabeth Bishop
DC Authors' Houses by Kim Roberts and Dan Vera

1950-1952.......CONRAD AIKEN

1952................WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

Four Laureates by Dan Vera
"It is a Living Coral" by William Carlos Williams

1956-1958.......RANDALL JARRELL

Randall Jarrell in Washington by Peter Montgomery
DC Authors' Houses by Kim Roberts and Dan Vera

1958-1959.......ROBERT FROST

1959-1961.......RICHARD EBERHART

1961-1963.......LOUIS UNTERMEYER

1963-1964.......HOWARD NEMEROV

1964-1965.......REED WHITTEMORE

Six Poems by Reed Whittemore

1965-1966.......STEPHEN SPENDER

1966-1968.......JAMES DICKEY

Four Laureates by Dan Vera

1968-1970.......WILLIAM JAY SMITH

1970-1971.......WILLIAM STAFFORD

An Area of Possible Encounter: Williams Stafford in Washington DC by Christy J. Zink

1971-1973.......JOSEPHINE JACOBSEN

1973-1974.......DANIEL HOFFMAN

1974-1976.......STANLEY KUNITZ

1976-1978.......ROBERT HAYDEN

1978-1980.......WILLIAM MEREDITH

1981-1982.......MAXINE KUMIN

Four Laureates by Dan Vera

1982-1984.......ANTHONY HECHT

Three Anecdotes about Anthony Hecht by Michael Gushue
Six Poems by Anthony Hecht

1984-1985.......REED WHITTEMORE

Six Poems by Reed Whittemore

1984-1985.......ROBERT FITZGERALD

1985-1986.......GWENDOLYN BROOKS

1986-1987.......ROBERT PENN WARREN

1987-1988.......RICHARD WILBUR

1988-1990.......HOWARD NEMEROV

1990-1991.......MARK STRAND

The Uncontrollable Elements: An Interview with Mark Strand by Jean Nordhaus

1991-1992.......JOSEPH BRODSKY

The Generous Spirit of American Poetry: An Interview with Joseph Brodsky by Grace Cavalieri

1992-1993.......MONA VAN DUYN

Leda in Red Sneakers: A Remembrance of Mona Van Duyn by Andrea Carter Brown

1993-1995.......RITA DOVE

1995-1997.......ROBERT HASS

1997-2000.......ROBERT PINSKY

2000-2001.......STANLEY KUNITZ

2001-2003.......BILLY COLLINS

2003-2004.......LOUISE GLÜCK

In the Magnificent Region of Courage: An Interview with Louise Glück by Grace Cavalieri

2004-2006.......TED KOOSER

2006-2007.......DONALD HALL

2007-2008.......CHARLES SIMIC

Orphan of Silence: Charles Simic by Alan King

2008-present...KAY RYAN

The Elephant in the Room: Kay Ryan by Danielle Evennou


Dan Vera
is a poet and writer living in Washington, DC. He's the author of The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books, 2008), editor of the Gay culture journal White Crane, co-founder of VRZHU Poetry Press, founder of Brookland Area Writers & Artists, and a member of DC Poets Against War, and the Triangle Artists Group. His poetry has appeared in Delaware Poetry Review, DC Poets Against The War, Konch, Shaping Sanctuary, and Pacifica Radio's nationally broadcast Peace Watch program.


Published in Volume 10.4, Fall 2009.

Read more by this author:
Dan Vera
Dan Vera: Evolving City Issue
Dan Vera: Split This Rock Issue
Kim Roberts and Vera on DC Author's Houses: Forebears Issue
Dan Vera: Tenth Anniversary Issue
Dan Vera: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue
Dan Vera: Floricanto Issue
Dan Vera on Sterling A. Brown: Poetic Ancestors Issue