As Carol Ann Duffy’s term as Poet Laureate comes to a close this April 2019, we have put together a list of commonly asked questions about the UK Poet Laureate. Find out more about what a poet laureate is, what they do, and who the current UK Poet Laureate is below.
What is a Poet Laureate?
A poet laureate is a poet appointed by a government or organisation, who may be asked to compose poems by that appointing body. There are lots of poet laureates all around the world, but in the rest of this page we’ll be referring to the UK’s Poet Laureate.
The post of Poet Laureate is awarded to a poet whose work is considered to be of national significance. Though the Poet Laureate doesn’t have a specific job description, they often try to raise public awareness of poetry, and sometimes write poems about political and historical matters. The current Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has said of the post, “it’s good to have someone who’s prepared to say poetry is part of our national life” (Independent).
Who is the current Poet Laureate?
If you’re a poet aged 25 or younger, you can enter our free Young Poets Network challenge to write in response to Duffy’s work, joining in the celebrations of her Laureateship (closing 21 April 2019).
What responsibilities does the Poet Laureate have?
The Poet Laureateship has no precise job description. In the past, the Laureate was expected to pen poetry for royal events and national occasions and although this is no longer an official requirement, Poet Laureates often do write poems for such occasions, such as Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Long Walk’ for Prince Harry’s wedding. Laureates are generally expected to hold a public role and they often try to raise awareness of poetry. Many Laureates take a strong interest in education and young people throughout their Laureateship.
Previous Poet Laureates have created new poetry initiatives as part of their role; for instance, Carol Ann Duffy set up the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry with her honorarium, and Andrew Motion co-founded the Poetry Archive.
Is the Poet Laureate paid?
Yes. Originally, the Poet Laureate’s salary was £200 per year plus a butt of canary wine. John Betjeman had this old tradition revived in 1972, and today’s Poet Laureate continues to receive a barrel of sherry. The DCMS supports the Laureateship by funding an annual honorarium of around £5,750.
How long is the term of a Poet Laureate?
For many years, the Poet Laureate was a lifelong post, meaning that once someone was Laureate, they would remain so until death.
Andrew Motion (Poet Laureate 1999-2009) was the first Laureate to be appointed for a fixed ten-year term. Carol Ann Duffy also served a ten-year term, and this fixed term Laureateship is set to continue.
Who was the first Poet Laureate?
There is a debate about who the UK’s first Poet Laureate was: John Dryden was the first in an unbroken line of Poet Laureates from 1668 until today.
However, in 1616 Ben Johnson received an annual pension of 100 marks from King James I for his poetry, which has led some to call him the unofficial ‘first’ poet laureate.
There were similar titles held by poets dating back to the medieval ages. Most famously, perhaps, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) was called a poet laureate and given 10 shillings a year by King Henry I.
How is the Poet Laureate appointed?
You can’t apply to be Poet Laureate – the Laureate is chosen by a parliamentary committee, and is approved (and ultimately appointed) by the Queen. The shortlisting process is done by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who are in turn advised by a panel of various poetry and arts organisations. The government is expected to announce the new appointment in May 2019.
Who has been Poet Laureate in the past?
1619: Ben Jonson*
1637: Sir William D’Avenant*
1668: John Dryden
1688: Thomas Shadwell
1692: Nahum Tate
1715: Nicholas Rowe
1718: Reverend Laurence Eusden
1730: Colley Cibber
1757: William Whitehead
1785: Reverend Thomas Warton
1790: Henry James Pye
1813: Robert Southey
1843: William Wordsworth
1850: Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1896: Alfred Austin
1913: Robert Bridges
1930: John Masefield
1967: Cecil Day-Lewis
1972: Sir John Betjeman
1984: Ted Hughes
1999: Andrew Motion
2009: Carol Ann Duffy
*See ‘Who was the first Poet Laureate?’
Are there other kinds of poet laureates?
Yes – there are lots of poet laureates across the UK who aren’t the royally appointed Laureate, including many themed or regional poet laureates and youth laureates in London, Birmingham, Warwickshire, the Wirral and more. And of course there are many oet laureates and similar roles in other countries across the world.
Here are just a few other laureates in the UK – do research whether your area or country has one!