February 26, 2024

U.S. Poet Laureate Projects

Since the Poet Laureateship was created by an act of Congress in 1985, nearly half of the laureates have taken on a signature project to raise the national appreciation of poetry. The best of them have a life beyond their tenure and some of them have an online presence.

A good example is the American Life in Poetry project by Ted Kooser from 2004-2022 to create a space and a presence for poetry in American culture. American Life in Poetry provided newspapers and online periodicals with a free weekly column by Kooser that featured a poem from a contemporary American poet. The poems and columns remain archived online.

The Favorite Poem Project by Robert Pinsky was the first digital one I experienced. It is a way to celebrate, document, and encourage a public appreciation of poetry as well as acknowledge the role of poetry in the everyday lives of Americans. The project called for Americans to share their favorite poems with the nation.

Billy Collins' Poetry 180 was one I used in my classroom. It was his effort to make poetry an active part in the daily experience of American high school students, giving students a chance to read or listen to a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. Two anthologies came from the project.

American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities was the 2018 project of Tracy K. Smith who visited rural communities around the country and gave away copies of her anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, to spark conversations about the power of poetry.Living Nations, Living Words was created in 2020 by Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. It gathered a sampling of work by 47 contemporary Native poets from across the nation and features an interactive Story Map and a newly developed audio collection.

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