By Deb A.
Playfully profound former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins is making the rounds to promote his new book, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. Which means, among other things, that "two-term Poet Laureate of the United States" and variations thereof have been sprinkled liberally throughout reviews, promotional material and interviews. The title sounds impressive, and indeed it is, but for many, the role is a complete mystery.
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress "serves as the official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans," according to the Library of Congress, which appoints a preeminent poet to the position each year. The Poet Laureate is not required to commemorate major events (although Billy Collins memorialized the victims of 9/11 in The Names); instead, he or she is tasked with spending a September-to-May term nudging the American public toward a greater appreciation of poetry. The honour includes a $35,000 stipend.
Alongside three concrete tasks —giving a reading or presentation at the inauguration and closing of his or her term, and selecting and introducing the two annual Witter Bynner Fellows — Poets Laureate may choose to pursue a special initiative or project. These vary according the the Poet Laureate's own interests and ideas; for instance:
Embedding poetry into a nation's consciousness is a formidable challenge that speaks to the very heart of a populace: as Charles Simic (2007-2008) assures us, "there's nothing more interesting or hopeful about America than its poetry."
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