John Dryden

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What does the term "poet laureate" mean?

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The term "poet laureate" is an honorary yet official designation for a literary figure chosen to represent his/her country (or state or other organization) as the highest ranking poet of the region. Poets laureate are often called upon to present original poetry for readings at special events. The current U.S. poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, who works closely with the Library of Congress. Other former notable past American Poets Laureate include Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren and Richard Wilbur. Many American states and even cities are also represented by poets laureate: The late singer/songwriter John Denver was the poet laureate of Colorado, while Los Angeles recently named its first official poet laureate (Eloise Healy). 

England has been naming national poets laureate since the days of King James I and King Henry III. King Richard the Lion-Heart had his own "king's poet," and it is believed that Ben Jonson was England's first unofficial poet laureate. Geoffrey Chaucer and John Skelton were also early poets laureate before John Dryden was confirmed as Great Britain's first official "royal" Poet Laureate in 1670. (Dryden was paid an annual stipend of 300 pounds as well as a supply of alcohol.) Distinguished writers such as William Wordsworth and Alfred Lord Tennyson later accepted the honor.

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