Being the poet laureate is the highest honor a poet can receive in this country. You get $35,000 and a beautiful office in the Library of Congress. (Kay Ryan just became the newest laureate, tasked with "bringing poetry to the forefront of the American consciousness.") It's not as idyllic as it seems, though. Time talks to past laureates and finds out that it's mostly a huge pain in the ass, full of e-mails and networking and people making demands on your time.
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, describes "endless interviews... "The position is so well known that sooner or later every newspaper and magazine in the country gets in touch with you."And then there are e-mails from crazies: "...My cell phone would ring and a high government official would ask me to fix a poem written by her late father to read at his memorial service." Also, the extra attention could get you in trouble—New Jersey's poet laureate, Amiri Baraka, lost his position after publishing "Somebody Blew Up America." It pissed off the Anti-Defamation League, and Baraka unsuccessfully sued New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, who killed the position as a way of firing him. Oh, well! Good luck, Kay. America's Busiest Poet [Time]