As of 2017, 46 states and the District of Columbia have poet laureates, with a few vacancies. The duration of the terms varies per state. Previously, comparable positions existed in two states: New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but they were abolished in 2003. Michigan has had one poet laureate from 1952 through 1959. In that year, George Raymond, who served as poet laureate of Michigan during the years 1958 to 1959, was also made poet laureate of Connecticut because both states had appointed someone to the position at about the same time. He resigned from the position in Massachusetts where he had been commissioned as poet laureate that same year.
The positions are mostly unpaid, but some carry a small salary. They are usually designated by the governor or the legislature. Some states appoint their laureates while others have them elected by their peers. Some states may have more than one poet laureate at a time. Currently, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin have a poet laureate. Formerly, Delaware had one too. Now, it is called an associate poet laureate.
States can choose not to have a poet laureate if they don't want to honor poetry by appointment. For example, Mississippi has never had a poet laureate because its governor has refused to give one official status.
Most states appoint a poet laureate for a one- or two-year term, ranging from fewer to several years, and some states appoint a poet to a lifetime tenure. Two states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, previously had such posts but abolished them in 2003. Nebraska has no formal position of poet laureate, although several individuals have been invited to take part in events as honorary guests of the state agency that sponsors those events.
Poets Laureate are selected by their respective states for their expertise in poetry and its relationship to culture and society. Many are also successful authors themselves. They are usually awarded a ceremonial title and an annual salary. Some states require that they live within their borders at time of appointment, while others allow for regional representation. Several current or former poets laureates also serve as judges on committees that select winners of literary awards sponsored by their states.
The first poet laureate was Robert Southey, who served England from 1813 to 1816. The post was created as part of a program of cultural patronage by George III for British territories overseas. The role was originally called "poet-laureate-designate", but this was changed in 1918 when John Masefield was appointed. He held the post until his death in 1919; during his tenure he developed policies regarding the use of the title "poet laureate".
In Massachusetts, there has never been an official State Poet Laureate. While Idaho does not have a "poet laureate," the state does designate a "Writer in Residence," who might be a novelist or poet. The position was created by Governor C. Elmer Anderson and came into effect on July 1, 1977.
The Writer in Residence is selected by the governor's office with advice from a committee made up of writers, publishers, and others. They meet once a year to select a writer who will hold the post for two years. The writer receives no pay but can ask for travel expenses.
There has never been a poet laureate in Michigan but there are several poets who are also faculty members at various universities across the state. Some universities have poetry readings held annually for their students while others have a designated poet who travels around the state performing work from both established and emerging poets.
In addition to being a university professor, Michigan has had several other poets serve as ambassador for literature in general and poetry in particular. One of these is Robert Pinsky, who from 2004 to 2008 served as the United States' poet laureate. He is now director of American Studies and English at Harvard University.
Other ambassadors include William Stafford, who served from 1973 to 1976, and his son Daniel Stafford, who served from 1992 to 1996.