As Quills presents its first award to the best volume of poetry published between August '04 and July '05, we took a look back at America's most celebrated poets and their distinguished bodies of work.
Kentucky-born Allen Tate was named Consultant in Poetry from 1943 to 1944. His most famous poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead," was published in 1927 and won the Bollinger Prize in 1956. Tate was succeeded by literary giant Robert Penn Warren, who held the post until 1945. Warren nabbed two Pulitzers for poetry, but his novel All the King's Men was a bestseller and won the Pulitzer in 1947. He was the first artist to be named Poet Laureate Consultant in 1986. The first woman Consultant in Poetry was melancholy Louise Bogan, who reviewed poetry for the New Yorker for many years, and whose most famous poem was "The Alchemist."
The remainder of the 1940s saw several prominent poets take the post. Karl Shapiro, Robert Lowell, Leonie Adams and Elizabeth Bishop reflected a wide range of voices and styles, from Lowell's blatantly confessional poems to Bishop's focus on landscape and man's connection to nature.
Southern poet Conrad Aiken's tenure as Consultant in Poetry kicked off the 1950s, a decade that also saw William Carlos Williams's appointment to the Post. But Williams, who was also a practicing pediatrician, did not serve. Another Southerner, Randall Jarrell, accepted the post in 1956. Poetry superstar Robert Frost, the most beloved American poet of the 20th century, added Poet Laureate to his long list of honors in 1959.
The social, cultural and political revolutions of the 1960s were not reflected in the Library of Congress' choice for Consultant in Poetry during that decade, where the first Brit, Sir Stephen Spender, was named in 1965. Bestselling novelist James Dickey, whose book of poems Buckdancer's Choice won the 1966 National Book Award, served for two years, beginning in 1966.
Stanley Kunitz, author of 10 books of poetry and for many years a professor at Columbia University, became Consultant in Poetry in 1976 and was succeeded by feminist poet Maxine Kumin, a Pulitzer Prize winner for Up Country: Poems of 81—82 New England.
Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African-American to be named to the post in 1985; she was also the first African-American to receive the Pulitzer, for AnnieAllen, in 1950. Brooks's stint was followed by the tenure of celebrated poet Richard Wilbur, who won almost as many awards as Robert Frost for his poems.
Mona Van Duyn became the first woman to be named Poet Laureate in 1992. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize, Van Duyn died last year. Rita Dove took the reins a year later. Robert Pinsky held the post for an unprecedented three consecutive years (1997—2000).
Bestselling poet Billy Collins did his bit for the Library of Congress in 2001 before handing the reins to Louise Gluck in 2002. The present Poet Laureate Consultant, Ted Kooser, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner for his collection Delights and Shadows, is serving his second term. He is the first major poetic voice for rural and small-town America to be chosen.