Vermont Poet Laureate
Vermont has a rich poetic tradition and throughout its history has produced numerous nationally recognized poets, so stated the 77th Governor of Vermont Madeleine Kunin by Executive Order in 1988 establishing the position of Vermont Poet Laureate. Kunin re-established the position, which was first held by Robert Frost in 1961.
Serving as Vermont’s ambassador for the art of poetry, the Poet Laureate is not only honored for their own work and accomplishments but can raise awareness and a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Vermont Poet Laureate is a four-year term. Mary Ruefle of Bennington, VT is the current Poet Laureate. Poets Chard deNiord, Sydney Lea, Ruth Stone, Grace Paley, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Louise Glück, and Galway Kinnell have also held the position. Read about the previous Vermont Poet Laureates.
The Appointment of a New Vermont Poet Laureate
The Vermont Arts Council along with its partners, Vermont Humanities, Poetry Society of Vermont and Sundog Poetry began accepting nominations for the appointment of a new Vermont Poet Laureate in summer 2023 with a deadline of Oct. 30, 2023.
The Poet Laureate serves as Vermont’s ambassador for the art of poetry and is called upon to participate in official ceremonies and readings within Vermont and nationally. This is an honorary position. The nominated Poet must agree to participate from time to time in official ceremonies, events, and/or readings within Vermont and, as appropriate, to share poetry with a broad audience. Historically, this has been at the discretion of the selected poet and has included sharing their work at the request of the governor, on the floors of the Vermont House and Senate, at events such as the Council’s Arts Award ceremonies, Poetry Out Loud competitions, and other special occasions of the Arts Council and partners. Poets may also be called upon by community members and/or organizations to share their work. The Poet is responsible for coordinating their own appearances and may accept and/or decline invitations as their schedules and abilities allow. The Poet will also be invited to participate in the Vermont Humanities Speakers Bureau.
The Vermont Arts Council manages the nomination process for the Poet Laureate. After a call to the public for nominations, submissions are reviewed by a panel of knowledgeable and experienced reviewers identified by the Council, its partners, and other experts in the field. The panelists review all the applications, based upon the established criteria, and narrow the nominations to a small number (generally four to six) of finalists. Subsequently, the panelists review the published/produced poetry of the finalists, meet again, and rank them to identify the top three poets. The recommendations are sent to the Governor’s office for additional consideration. The Governor makes the final selection and names the Poet Laureate.
All nominations are welcome, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, cultural heritage, socio-economic background, physical ability, or poetic sub-genre in the pursuit of the Poet Laureate being representative of the rich and diverse cultures of poetry in the State of Vermont. Self-nominations are also eligible. The nominated Poet must be at least 21 years of age at the time of nomination and have lived in Vermont as their primary residence for at least five years. Time spent out-of-state during those years is accepted if the nominee has maintained Vermont as their home state of residence. Poets should maintain Vermont residence throughout their term as Poet Laureate. Poets of all subgenres and styles will be considered.
The Vermont Poet Laureate is a person
- whose poetry manifests a high degree of excellence, has demonstrated mastery of techniques and skills, and communicates a unique voice or vision through the work.
- who has a body of publicly accessible works. This could be in the form of published books, literary magazines, and/or digital media. This also may include performances of the poet’s original work.
- who has evidence of achievement in the art of poetry and/or has produced a critically acclaimed body of work. This could be in the form of awards, positive praise from professional critics, poetry experts, and/or public/community recognition.
- who has a long association with Vermont.
- who agrees to fulfill the role of the Poet Laureate as outlined in the position description.
The Poet selected shall receive an annual honorarium of $1,000 provided by the Vermont Arts Council to support engaging with Vermonters. If the Poet chooses to participate in the VT Humanities Speakers Bureau, they will be compensated at a rate comparable to other presenters (currently $350 per presentation.)
The deadline for nominations was Oct. 30, 2023. Nominations will be reviewed by an external panel in the fall and early winter with an appointment ceremony anticipated in late winter 2024.
Questions regarding nominations should be directed to: Michele Bailey, Senior Program Manager at 802.402.4614 or [email protected] or Dominique Gustin, Artist Services Manager at 802.402.4602 or [email protected]
The Vermont Poets Laureate
Mary Ruefle (2019-present)
Mary Ruefle is the author of numerous books of poetry, essays, and erasures, including Dunce (2019), which was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize. She is the recipient of numerous honors, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Whiting Award. In 2020, she was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Read our features about Mary Ruefle.
Chard deNiord (2015-2019)
Chard deNiord published his first poetry collection, Asleep in the Fire (1990), while teaching comparative religions and philosophy at the Putney School in Putney, Vermont. He has since published six other poetry collections and two collections of essays and interviews with eminent American poets. He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, and his poems have been included in anthologies including Best American Poetry (1999) and American Poetry Now (2007). He co-founded the New England College Master of Fine Arts program in poetry. In 2022, he was named a Fellow of Vermont’s Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Sydney Lea (2011-2015)
Sydney Lea is the author of numerous books of poetry, a novel, and several nonfiction collections. His poetry collection Pursuit of a Wound (2000) was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the co-founder of the New England Review, a nationally-recognized literary magazine. His honors include fellowships from the Fulbright Association, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Center), as well as the 1998 Poets’ Prize. He is a trustee emeritus of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Ruth Stone (2007-2011)
Ruth Stone was the author of thirteen books of poetry, including What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (2008), a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; In the Next Galaxy (2002), which received the 2002 National Book Award; and Ordinary Words (1999), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Among Stone’s other awards are two Guggenheim Fellowships, The Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine, the Shelley Memorial Award, and the Vermont Cerf Award for lifetime achievement in the arts. A Vermont resident since 1957, Stone died at her home in Ripton, Vermont, on November 19, 2011 at the age of 96.
Grace Paley (2003-2007)
Grace Paley was a celebrated author of short stories, poems, and nonfiction. Her poetry collections include Leaning Forward (1985), Begin Again (1992) and Fidelity (2008—posthumous). She wrote three critically acclaimed collections of short stories, which were compiled in the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist The Collected Stories in 1994. Paley was a notable peace activist, committed to anti-war movements throughout her lifetime. During the war in Vietnam, Paley joined the War Resisters League, and traveled to Hanoi in 1969 on a peace mission attempting to free prisoners of war. In 1978, she was arrested for covering part of the White House lawn with an anti-nuclear weapons banner. Paley’s honors include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1967, the Edith Wharton Award in 1983, and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in the Literary Arts in 1994. She lived in New York City and in Thetford, Vermont, where she died on August 22, 2007.
Ellen Bryant Voigt (1999-2002)
Ellen Bryant Voigt has published six collections of poetry and a collection of craft essays. Her poetry collection Shadow of Heaven (2002) was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Kyrie (1995) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her collection Messenger (2008) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2003 she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2015, Voigt was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
Louise Glück (1994-1998)
Louise Glück is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014), which won the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry, The Wild Iris (1992), which received the Pulitzer Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award; Ararat (1990), for which she received the Library of Congress’s Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; and The Triumph of Achilles (1985), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Boston Globe Literary Press Award, and the Poetry Society of America’s Melville Kane Award. The recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, Glück was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999. Glück was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003 to 2004.
Galway Kinnell (1989-1993)
Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Kinnell’s Selected Poems (1982) won the Pulitzer Prize and was co-winner of the National Book Award in 1983. A follower of Walt Whitman, he edited The Essential Whitman (1987). Other well-known Kinnell works include The Book of Nightmares (1971) and The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World: Poems 1946-1964 (1974). He was a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets. Kinnell died October 28, 2014 at his home in Sheffield, Vermont at the age of 87.
Robert Frost (1961-1963)
One of the most celebrated figures in American poetry, Robert Frost was the author of numerous poetry collections. Known for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech, Frost frequently wrote about settings from rural life in New England in the early 20th century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. By the 1920s, he was the most celebrated poet in America, and with each new book—including New Hampshire (1923), A Further Range (1936), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962)—his fame and honors, including four Pulitzer Prizes, increased. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1962 for his poetic works. Robert Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont and died in Boston on January 29, 1963.