TCS: 21st Century U.S. Poets Laureate, Part ONE – ‘Fate Hired Me’

   Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

You will find poetry nowhere unless
you bring some of it with you.
– Joseph Joubert


April is National Poetry Month in the U.S.

It was first introduced and organized in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, as a celebration of American poetry, and a way to increase awareness and appreciation for the art of verse.

In a proclamation issued on April 1, 1996, President Bill Clinton declared: “National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry … Their creativity and wealth of language enrich our culture and inspire a new generation of Americans to learn the power of reading and writing at its best.”

In celebration of National Poetry Month, this is Part ONE of a three-part series of short-ish poems written by the U.S. Poets Laureate who have served in the 21st century up to this year.

It happens in June, every year or two. At our national bastion of all the words, the Library of Congress, a new Poet Laureate is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. There have been a lot of firsts at these announcements. The first ‘Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress’ — as this job was originally called — was Joseph Auslander, who served from 1938 to 1941, when the term was changed to one year, with an option for a second term. And other firsts: Louise Bogan (1945-1946), the first woman; Robert Hayden (1976-1978), the first African American; Louis Untermeyer (1961-1963), the Jewish writer and poet who was blacklisted in the 1950s; Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American woman (1985-1986); Juan Felipe Herrera (2015-2017), the first Chicano poet; and our current Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo (2019-2021), of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the first Native American to be appointed.

Poetry Room — Library of Congress

There is a bit of an overlap with the 20th century, because three poets were asked to serve as Special Bicentennial Consultants, and their term actually began in 1999.


Special Bicentennial Consultants


Rita Dove, Louise Glück,

and W.S. Merwin



.by Rita Dove

 for Michael S. Harper

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
has as many shadows as lights
a mournful caldelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

“Canary” from Grace Notes, © 1989 by Rita Dove – W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


The Butterfly

by Louise Glück

Look, a butterfly. Did you make a wish?

You don’t wish on butterflies.

You do so. Did you make one?


It doesn’t count.

“The Butterfly” from  Louise Glück: Poems 1962-2020, © 2019 by Louise Glück – Penguin Poetry


The Wings of Daylight

by W.S. Merwin

Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows
what we see is never what we touch
what we take turns out to be something else
what we see that one time departs untouched
while other shadows gather around us
the world’s shadows mingle with our own
we had forgotten them but they know us
they remember us as we always were
they were at home here before the first came
everything will leave us except the shadows
but the shadows carry the whole story
they open their long wings

“The Wings of Daylight” from Garden Time, © 2016 by W. S. Merwin –
Copper Canyon Press


U.S. Poets Laureate 2000-2004


Stanley Kunitz – 2000-2001

(previously Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress 1974-1976)

Between the Acts

by Stanly Kunitz

Fate hired me once to play a villain’s part.
I did it badly, wasting valued blood;
Now when the call is given to the good
It is that knave who answers in my heart.

“Between the Acts” by Stanley Kunitz appeared in Poetry magazine’s August 1943 issue


Billy Collins – 2001-2003

Man in Space

by Billy Collins

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you know why women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,
why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breast protected by hard metal disks.

“Man in Space” from The Art of Drowning © 1995 by Billy Collins – University of Pittsburgh Press


Louise Glück – 2003-2004


by Louise Glück

All day I tried to distinguish
need from desire. Now, in the dark,
I feel only bitter sadness for us,
the builders, the planers of wood,
because I have been looking
steadily at these elms
and seen the process that creates
the writhing, stationary tree
is torment, and have understood
it will make no forms but twisted forms.​​​​​​​

“Elms” from The First Four Books of Poems, © 1995 by Louise Glück –  HarperCollins Publishers


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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