New Poet Laureate Named

Some surprising news in the poetry community. This is definitely going to stir things up for awhile--

Robert Matthew Van Winkle Named US Poet Laureate After Kay Ryan Steps Down

WASHINGTON, Tuesday, 1 April 2009 10.09 EST (Reuters)- Robert Van Winkle, the award-winning lyrical poet born and raised in Dallas, Texas has been named as the country’s new poet laureate after current Poet Laureate Kay Ryan stepped down after stating the position was giving her carpel tunnel.

Robert Van Winkle, known by most as “Vanilla Ice,” a former rap artist has been living in Texas as a poet since his music career died out. For the last twelve years, he has been corresponding with well-known American poets including Paul Muldoon, Louise Gluck, and Jorie Graham. When the position of Poet Laureate came to end so quickly, the Library of Congress along with Academy of American Poets said it was a “no-brainer” who to pick.

Robert Pinsky, a former US Poet Laureate responded, “We needed to shake things up a little bit in the poetry community and we felt that mixing a well-known rap poet with the standard literary community was a good thing.” Billy Collins, also a former Poet Laureate echoes Pinsky’s thoughts, “What can say? He states in one of his songs to ‘take heed, he’s a lyrical poet,’ and we did. We’re taking him at his word and feel that poetry world will respond positively to this new appointment.”

Ryan responded slightly differently, “I wasn’t expecting they’d find a replacement so soon, I mean, I just left. But I’m willing to give this kid a chance. And I honestly had to quit, all these responses to fan letters was causing my wrist terrible pain. Who knew I’d be so popular as Poet Laureate, I honestly thought I wouldn’t have to do anything.”

Van Winkle will be the 17th poet to hold the title of US poet laureate. The annual post of consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress has existed since 1937, but the occupant was not officially designated poet laureate until 1985, following an act of Congress. With his appointment, Van Winkle joins a venerable rollcall that includes such luminaries as Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost.

Van Winkle, now 41, released his debut album, Hooked, in 1989 through Ichiban Records, before signing a contract with SBK Records, which released a reformatted version of the album under the title To the Extreme. Van Winkle's single, "Ice Ice Baby" was the first hip hop single to top the Billboard charts, and has been credited with helping to diversify hip hop by introducing it to a mainstream white audience. Further albums by Van Winkle, including Hard to Swallow, Bi-Polar and Platinum Underground, featured a less mainstream rock-oriented sound, and did not chart.

Van Winkle’s appointment was announced by James H Billington, the librarian of Congress. Asked why Van Winkle was chosen from the shortlist of 13 candidates, Billington replied that it was down to "the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry ... His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears. He's very hard to describe, and that's a great tribute to him. Also, we had to choose so quickly, he was the only one with nothing on his schedule for the next two years."

Speaking by telephone from his home, Van Winkle described himself as a "nebula poet", joking that he has "has no idea what I’m talking about." He originally wanted to be a rap artist, he said, until "I realized that I had no talent."

Van Winkle succeeds Kay Ryan to the laureateship, which comes with a $35,000 award and a $5,000 travel allowance. According to the library of Congress, the duty of the poet laureate is to "raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry" by whatever means he or she sees fit. Van Winkle said that he had not yet decided what he would do with his term which begins in October; except he thought it might really give him some “street cred” with the ladies. Meanwhile he continues to write for the Texas Poetry Lovers and Rappers Association and is waiter at Pigs ‘N Grits CafĂ© in hometown. His new poetry collection, Ice Remodeled, will be published next year by Harper Collins.



  1. Wow - I've never heard of him, I'll have to look him up.

  2. Is this an April Fool's? "I didn't think I'd have to do anything..." Really?

  3. Hah! Brilliant! Thanks for making my Fool's Day....

  4. Kelli- you've obviously had too many sleepless nights! ;)

  5. Wonderful. I read this while my second period class was reading silently and almost spit my coffee on the desk.

  6. Glad you guys got the joke!

    his name is ice ice baby

  7. Oh, that is hilarious!! The title sucked me in, but once I got to Vanilla Ice, I knew. Thanks for making me smile.

  8. Did that sound like I fell for it? ;) I didn't.

  9. Maya, I wasn't sure if you got it, but a lot of people didn't (I know b/c they emailed me!) ;-)

    it was one of those jokes where if you weren't really paying attn., you could think it was true.

    anyway, all in good poetry fun
    and glad you got it too, Sharon!


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