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Billy Collins. Photo credit: James Duncan Davidson/TED. ( )

Meet America's Poets Laureate, Past And Present

by NPR Staff
Apr 17, 2013

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Philip Levine. Photo credit: Geoffrey Berliner. Robert Pinsky. Photo credit: Ebony Bailey/NPR.

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To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, NPR Books reached into the archives for some interviews with the nation's official poets. Poets Laureate past and present have revealed their eloquence and insight in these interviews, where they discuss their inspirations, their heart-breaking memories, their confrontations with aging — and, in the case of Ted Kooser, how his wife felt about his thousands of Valentines.


Mississippi Meditation: A Poet Looks 'Beyond Katrina'
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey has deep ties to the Gulf Coast and was profoundly affected by Katrina. She wrote a memoir detailing how members of her family worked to rebuild their lives after the storm. In it, she asks how the identity of the Gulf will be remembered — and how the region's stories will be told. Trethewey is the current Poet Laureate. (Fresh Air, Aug. 28, 2010)


New Poet Laureate Philip Levine's 'Absolute Truth'
"The truth of poetry is not the truth of history," says Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine. Levine's work is most famous for an urban, working-class perspective that began with a youth spent working in Detroit's automobile factories. 2011-2012 Poet Laureate. (All Things Considered, Aug. 14, 2011)


'Sirius' Poetry From New Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin
W.S. Merwin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet known for his anti-war poetry and environmental activism, joined Terry Gross in 2008 for a discussion about memory, mortality and his writing process. 2010-2011 Poet Laureate. (Fresh Air, Dec. 16, 2008, rebroadcast July 2, 2010)


Donald Hall: A Poet's View 'Out The Window'
In 2012, at the age of 83, poet Donald Hall joined Terry Gross to reflect on how life has changed as he's grown older. "My body causes me trouble when I cross the room, but when I am sitting down writing, I am in my heaven — my old heaven," he said. 2006-2007 Poet Laureate. (Fresh Air, Feb. 8, 2012)


Ted Kooser Shares The Poetry Of Valentine's Day
For more than two decades, Ted Kooser wrote an annual Valentine's Day poem and sent it to an ever-growing list of women — thousands of mailboxes around the country received his heart-marked postcards. Kooser joins Melissa Block to talk about the project and the book it inspired. 2004-2006 Poet Laureate. (All Things Considered, Feb. 14, 2008)


When Does Creativity Start And End?
Former laureate Billy Collins captures readers with his understated wit and profound insight. In a TED talk and a conversation with TED Radio Hour, he shares a look into his own creative process, which requires a lot of patience, intensity and trips to the dry cleaner. 2001-2003 Poet Laureate. (TED Radio Hour, May 25, 2012)


Poet Stanley Kunitz At 100
Over his lifetime, poet Stanley Kunitz received a Pulitzer, a National Book Award and the National Medal of the Arts, and served as the nation's poet laureate ... twice. In 2005, as Kunitz turned 100, he read from his poem "The Long Boat." 1974-1976, 2000-2001 Poet Laureate. (All Things Considered, July 29, 2005)


NewsPoet: Robert Pinsky Writes The Day In Verse
NPR's All Things Considered regularly invites a poet into the newsroom to see how the show comes together and to write an original poem about the news. In June, Robert Pinsky joined All Things Considered to "compose," rather than "write," a news-themed poem. 1997-2000 Poet Laureate. (All Things Considered, June 14, 2012)


Poet Robert Hass: An Elegy For His Younger Brother
Robert Hass reflects on his brother's passing in the poem "August Notebook: A Death." The elegy is included in Hass' collection The Apple Trees at Olema, which includes material from his first five works — as well as new poems on the art of storytelling and personal relations in a violent world. 1995-1997 Poet Laureate. (Fresh Air, April 15, 2010)


Gwendolyn Brooks Captures Chicago 'Cool'
Brooks' best-known work tells the chilling life stories of seven young men in eight short lines. She took her inspiration for "Seven at the Golden Shovel/The Pool Players" from a pool hall in her native Chicago. 1985-1986 Poet Laureate. (Poems to a Listener interview, rebroadcast on All Things Considered, April 15, 2007)

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