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Just What Is a Poet Laureate?: Background information when reading The Best of It

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The Best of It

New and Selected Poems

by Kay Ryan

The Best of It
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Just What Is a Poet Laureate?

The United States Poet Laureate* is appointed annually by the Library of Congress, and is poetically described by the LOC as the "official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans." (Personally, I like the very idea of a "collective poetic impulse," and find its acknowledgement and promotion by an institution of the federal government deeply heartening!) The Laureate's job is to promote poetry in the national consciousness however he or she wishes, often by implementing public programs and education in schools. They also head an annual poetry reading series at the Library. The Laureate receives a stipend of $35,000 (which when the stipend was originally instituted served as quite a nice living for a poet, but now serves as more of a bonus to the Laureate who usually earns a living teaching at a university.)

Since 1937, the Librarian of Congress (currently James H. Billington) has appointed poets to the position, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Stanley Kunitz, ...

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