Poet Laureate FAQs

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 Poet Laureate in the UK. Find out more about what a poet laureate is, what they do, and who the current Poet Laureate in the UK 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. Although the role of Poet Laureate doesn’t have a specific job description, and carries no formal requirements, the Poet Laureate often writes poems which engage with national public events. The Laureate also plays a role raising public awareness of poetry. The most recent 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?

Simon Armitage was announced as Poet Laureate on 10 May 2019. See our Press Release page for announcements.

 

What responsibilities does the Poet Laureate have?

The Poet Laureateship has no formal 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. While Laureate, Tennyson wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.

Carol Ann Duffy wrote poems to mark a wide variety of situations, including ‘Politics’ (2009) about the MPs’ expenses scandal, ‘Silver Lining’ (2010) about the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and ‘Long Walk’ for Prince Harry’s wedding in 2018.

Recent 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?

The Poet Laureate traditionally receives an honorarium from HM The Queen. Carol Ann Duffy donated her annual honorarium to The Poetry Society to found a new award, The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, which was presented annually throughout her term as Laureate from 2009-2019.

The Poet Laureate’s current annual honorarium is circa £6,000.

Historically, the Poet Laureate received a gift of wine from the monarch. In 1790 Henry Pye asked if he could be paid a salary and the ‘butt of canary wine’ was discontinued until the 20th century.

Tell us about the sherry

By tradition, the Poet Laureate receives a barrel of wine, often referred to as the ‘butt of sack’ or the ‘butt of canary wine’ – now its modern equivalent, a barrel of sherry. The gift had been discontinued since 1790 but was reinstated in 1984 at the appointment of Ted Hughes.

Each of the subsequent Poet Laureates, Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy, also received a barrel of sherry and the same offer will be made to the incoming Laureate in 2019. This works out as 720 bottles, and delivery is usually spread out over the ten years of the Laureate’s tenure, an average of 72 bottles a year.

No longer the gift of the monarch, since 1984 the Laureate’s sherry has been a gift from the Sherry Producers of Spain as a goodwill gesture to celebrate the cultural and trading links between Britain and Spain. The Poet Laureates are invited to Jerez to select their sherry from a wide variety on offer, and usually design their own labels.

How long is the term of the Poet Laureate?

Until the death of Ted Hughes in 1998, the position of Poet Laureate was a lifetime appointment.

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 (2009-2019). The next Laureate will serve from 2019-2029.

Who was the first Poet Laureate?

John Dryden was appointed Poet Laureate in 1668 by Charles II and there has been an unbroken line of Poet Laureates ever since.

However, a number of poets were appointed as Laureate before that. These include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Skelton, and  Ben Jonson. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) was given 10 shillings a year by King Henry I.

How is the Poet Laureate appointed?

You can’t apply to be Poet Laureate. It is an honorary role awarded to a poet of national significance. The appointment is approved by HM The Queen acting on the advice of Her Majesty’s Government. A steering committee was appointed by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright to advise on the selection of the new Laureate to succeed Carol Ann Duffy in 2019. The steering committee included representatives from a range of literary and arts organisations, including The Poetry Society. A new Poet Laureate will be announced on 10 May 2019 (10pm).

Who has been Poet Laureate in the past?

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
2019: new appointment

Are there different kinds of Poet Laureate?

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 poet 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!

Waterstones Children’s Laureate
Canal Laureate
Scottish Makar
National Poet of Wales