Ever wondered what it's like being the Poet Laureate of the United States? Time gives you an idea:
Patricia Gray, the head of the Library's Poetry and Literature Center, describes the laureateship as an "iconic" position. It is the highest honor for a poet in this country — bestowed by the Librarian of Congress, who consults with former laureates, the current laureate, and poetry critics in making his choice. It is the only government office for a literary artist that is not federally funded. It is an academic-year position (October to May), but poets may extend their term if they choose. The perks include a $35,000 stipend, a $5,000 travel allowance, cultural cachet and a swanky office at the Library of Congress — aptly called the Poetry Room, replete with furniture from the English Edwardian and American Colonial Revival periods and a view of the Capitol.
From this exalted perch, the poet laureate is charged with bringing poetry to the forefront of the American consciousness, as well as playing consultant to the Library of Congress — which includes giving a reading at the beginning of the term and a lecture or reading at end of term, organizing monthly readings and overseeing the Library's poetry fellowships and prizes. And, of course, he or she should continue to write poems.
Sounds simple enough. Still, many laureates have found the demands of the position overwhelming. In his forthcoming memoir, Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry, Donald Hall, who served from 2006 to 2007, sums it up in one sentence: "And the whole laureate year elapsed in a blur of activity."
The current laureate, Charles Simic, says he was often too busy to talk to his cat. He kept expecting the rush to die down, but it never did. "It's endless interviews," he says. "The position is so well known that sooner or later every newspaper and magazine in the country gets in touch with you."