What, exactly, does a U.S. Poet Laureate do?
You may think you know, but the real answer may surprise some folks. Fortunately, the Library of Congress has decided to clear up all the confusion in time for the title's current holder, Philip Levine (pictured above looking quite certain of his duties), to give his inaugural reading.
Howard Nemerov, we're told, was only half joking in 1963 when he wrote, “The Consultant in Poetry is a very busy man, chiefly because he spends so much time talking with people who want to know what the Consultant in Poetry does.”
And this advice was given to Allen Tate:
He should be warned that some of the questions referred to his attention will be trifling. They will emanate from school girls as well as from scholars, from poetry “groups”, and women’s clubs, and program makers, and catch-penny anthologists, and talent testers, and moon-struck (perhaps moon-stricken) novices too ponderous to be raised by Pegasus. Such work is part of the job; but it can be rather instructive and amusing.(To whom?)
On March 2, 2012, I introduced and conducted a Q&A with the UK and US Poets Laureate in Chicago. Accounts of this event may eventually be found on the internet...