The Magazine

Verse Choice

Is a 'modern hermit' the best poet for laureate?

Mar 30, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 27 • By ELI LEHRER
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Rather than the current free-form job description, the poet laureate might benefit from a clear mission of promoting public reading and listening. More Americans write poetry than read it, and a strong, single voice with a national platform could, conceivably, bring more poetry into American daily life. The laureate should also serve a continuous 24-month term--that is, long enough to undertake major projects--and earn a larger stipend. Those who take to the position with vigor--Haas and Rita Dove are good recent examples--might also qualify for a second consecutive term.

Kay Ryan has shown up at public readings, read from her own work a few times, announced plans for a "best of" collection, and done little else. Since she describes herself as a "modern hermit," such behavior isn't surprising; but hermits usually don't make good salesmen. If we want a poet laureate worthy of the title, Congress ought to think of the post a little expansively, broaden its reach, and give the American people a true national poet.

Eli Lehrer is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.