Since the 14th century, talented poets have been appointed as laureates by governments and various organizations and institutions. A poet laureate composes poems for important occasions and events to help commemorate the festivities and memorialize the events in verse. For example, during the Biden inauguration, the U.S.A.’s first youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman recited an original poem titled “The Hill We Climb”. A laureate holds a prestigious position reserved for a select few talented wordsmiths.
But how does one obtain such a title? It seems so mysterious and allusive, yet people clearly reach that goal of poetic infamy. So, what’s the process?
The first step would be to write a lot of poetry. And good poetry; you’ll need to have some publications under your belt. This shows your skill and gives you a leg up. The more poetry you have in your repertoire, the better your chances will be. In addition, read lots of poetry. One thing writers consistently advise other young writers to do is to read. This broadens your poetic knowledge and skill, and can help teach you technique.
Qualifications for becoming a laureate vary depending on the region and organization. Check and see what the specific guidelines are for your desired location. Most places will select their laureate through a committee, combing through potential candidates using the same criteria.
As with many literary competitions, committees will host a specific reading period, or sometimes simply nominations. With a reading period, anyone can submit their work as long as it fits the provided parameters. When only nominations are accepted, a member within the organization’s network will review potential candidates, then select the one they feel would be the best fit.
After the submission deadline passes, they will select their new poet laureate, who will serve for a specific term — commonly a couple of years. However, some institutions will only accept nominations of people who are already laureates. For example, when submitting nominations to determine the 2020 National Youth Laureate, ambassadors could only nominate candidates that were previously laureates in their city.
This system forces you to start small, relatively speaking. You may find the process of working your way up the ladder frustrating, but you wouldn’t jump into the deep end of a pool without at least a few lessons, right? Do a quick search to see what the requirements are for the poet laureate position in your hometown. There could be a reading period going on, which may serve as an ideal opportunity for you to get your work out there for a broader audience.
Committees tend to look for poets that fit with a particular theme, typically one pertaining to their location or their mission. For example, the National Poet Laureate probably writes a lot of poetry for the nation — seems like a rather intuitive system, doesn’t it? What’s important is to focus your poetry on the community. If your poetry actively discusses and highlights important aspects of your city and the people in it, then you’re creating the kind of poetry that laureates write on the regular.
It’s important to remember that becoming a laureate takes skill, but it takes quite a bit of luck as well. It’s a selective role that only a few people obtain each year, and many other poets are competing with one another to nab the title. If you thought publication was difficult, becoming a laureate is a whole other ball game. It’s a lofty goal with quite a few obstacles to overcome, so don’t get discouraged. Accept that these things take time if they happen at all, and know that your worth as a writer doesn’t hinge upon your title.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.