“Confessions of a Poet Laureate”

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“I don’t know if you are aware of this, but our poet laureates are not called upon to write occasional poems. The position is privately endowed—originally from a fund set up by industrialist scion Arthur M. Huntington in 1936—since it is unimaginable that the Congress of the United States would ever agree to part with a penny for the purpose of promoting poetry. The Republicans, especially, are always worried that someone in the arts is undermining the religious and family values of our country. They suspect poets of being subversives, free-thinkers, sex-fiends, and drug addicts. Their fears are not entirely without foundation. There have not been many American poets, living or dead, you’d want to bring home to meet your grandmother or have speak to your Bible study group.”

Charles Simic at the NYRB blog on why he decided to be poet laureate and the role of poetry in the U.S.

He ends with this thought: “There’s nothing more interesting or more hopeful about America than its poetry.”


Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He’s been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →