Poet Laureate History

The Maine State Poet Laureate is appointed for a 5-year term and may be reappointed for a second term. An individual may serve as State Poet Laureate for no more than two consecutive terms, but may be reappointed after a break in service.

The position, which is honorary, was established in 1995 (Maine Public Law 1995, Chapter 264) and codified (Maine Revised Statutes, Title 27, Chapter 15, Subchapter 2).

The law requires that the Poet Laureate reside in Maine and be a poet who has published "distinguished poetry". The nominee is selected by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by the Maine Arts Commission.

Since the creation of the position, five poets have served terms: 

Stuart Kestenbaum 2016-2020

Stuart Kestenbaum is the author of four collections of poems, Pilgrimage (Coyote Love Press), House of Thanksgiving (Deerbrook Editions), and Prayers and Run-on Sentences and Only Now (both Deerbrook Editions). He has been a visiting writer and guest lecturer at programs around the U.S., and written and spoken widely on craft making and creativity. His poems and writing have appeared in numerous small press publications and magazines including Tikkun, the Sun, the Beloit Poetry Journal, Northeast Corridor, and others and on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.

Wes McNair

Stuart Kestenbaum

Kestenbaum was the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine for 27 years, where he established innovative programs combining craft and writing and craft and new technologies. He is an honorary fellow of the American Craft Council and a recipient of the Distinguished Educator’s Award from the James Renwick Alliance. He retired from Haystack in 2015 and is currently the chair of the American Craft Council as well as an honorary member of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts.

Ted Kooser, from 2004-06 the nation’s thirteenth poet laureate, has said in regard to Kestenbaum’s Prayers and Run-on Sentences, “Stuart Kestenbaum writes the kind of poems I love to read, heartfelt responses to the privilege of having been given a life. No hidden agendas here, no theories to espouse, nothing but life, pure life, set down with craft and love.”

“When I was at Haystack I would frequently read poems—often by Maine poets—to artists who came from all around the US and other countries,” Kestenbaum said in a recent interview. “I wanted to give them a sense of place—of Maine—of its ingenuity and tenacity and of poetry’s power to slow the world down momentarily and let us see what’s most important. I’m so honored and grateful to have been selected as the state’s poet laureate.  I hope to make connections between writers and other creative disciplines and to celebrate poetry’s power to transform us—poet and reader alike-- in unexpected ways.”

During the summer of 2015, Kestenbaum gave a reading at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. Watch his reading here.

Maine’s Poet Laureate position is an appointment designed to promote poetry throughout the state while honoring an eminent Maine poet for his or her achievements.  The position was established by Maine statute in 1995. To be considered for this appointment, poets must be full-time Maine residents and have a distinguished body of poetic work.


Wes McNair 2011 to 2015

Wes McNair

Wes McNair

Wesley McNair is the recipient of fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Foundations, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship in literature, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships for Creative Writers, and a United States Artists Fellowship. Other honors include the Robert Frost Prize; the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry (for Fire); the Devins Award for poetry; the Eunice Teitjens Prize from Poetry magazine; the Theodore Roethke prize from Poetry Northwest; the Pushcart Prize, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal for his "distinguished contribution to the world of letters." He has received three honorary degrees for literary distinction. A two-time recipient of Rockefeller Fellowships for creative work at the Bellagio Center in Italy, McNair has read his poetry at the Library of Congress and a wide range of colleges and universities. Featured on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition (Saturday and Sunday programs) and 14 times on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, his work has appeared in the Pushcart Prize Annual, two editions of The Best American Poetry, and over sixty anthologies and textbooks. He has served four times on the nominating committee for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Wesley McNair's website: www.wesleymcnair.com 

During his five year tenure as Maine’s Poet Laureate, McNair launched several new programs “to bring poetry to the people of Maine.” The first was a series of readings called “The Maine Poetry Express,” a “train” of readings given by poets in all the regions of Maine. McNair's second project was a new column for more than 20 newspapers across Maine, including all the major dailies, featuring one previously published poem a week by a Maine poet from the present, or from the state's illustrious past. The name of the column is Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry. The poems of Take Heart are also posted on the websites of libraries across the state.


Betsy Sholl 2006 to 2010 

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009). Don't Explain won the 1997 Felix Pollak Prize from the University of Wisconsin, and her book The Red Line won the 1991 AWP Prize for Poetry. Her chapbooks include Pick A Card, winner of the Maine Chapbook Competition in 1991, and Betsy Sholl: Greatest Hits, 1974-2004, Pudding House Publications. She was a founding member of Alice James Books and published three collections with them: Changing Faces, Appalachian Winter and Rooms Overhead. Among her awards are a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, and two Maine Writer's Fellowships. Her work has been included in several anthologies, including Letters to America, Contemporary American Poetry on Race, and a range of magazines, including Field, Triquarterly, Brilliant Corners, The Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, Beloit Poetry Journal. She has been a visiting poet at the University of Pittsburgh and Bucknell University. She lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches at the University of Southern Maine and in the MFA Program of Vermont College.


Baron Wormser 2000 to 2005 

Baron Wormser

Baron Wormser

Baron Wormser went to college at the Johns Hopkins University, continuing with graduate studies at the University of California, Irvine and the University of Maine. He taught poetry writing at the University of Maine at Farmington and from 1975 to 1998 he lived with his family in an off-the-grid house, later writing his memoir, The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir of Living Off the Grid. In 2000 he was appointed Poet Laureate of Maine, serving for five years and visiting many libraries and schools throughout Maine. He read his poem "Building a House in the Maine Woods, 1971" at Governor Baldacci's inauguration in 2003. Since 2002 he has taught in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. In 2009 he joined the Fairfield University MFA program. Wormser received the Frederick Bock Prize for Poetry and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize along with fellowships from Bread Loaf, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


Kate Barnes 1996 to 1999 

Kate Barnes

Kate Barnes

Kate Barnes was born in 1932. She is the second daughter of Maine writers Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth. Taking after her mother and father, her mother having written poetry and children stories, Barnes cultivated words producing works centering around life in Maine. She has two books of poetry in print with David R. Godine LLC. The collections are titled Where the Deer Were and Kneeling Orion. She has been published in many literary journals, and has taught writing workshops throughout the state of Maine. As Maine’s first Poet Laureate, appointed by Governor King, her work shows a very careful style, which comfortably represents her experience within the state. During her service as Poet Laureate, she wrote the poems "Echoes From the Land," "Neighborliness," "Why Do You Ask," and "Talking to the Dog." Currently, she has four grown children and lives on a farm in Appleton, Maine, which raises blueberries and hay.


The current Poet Laureate of Maine is Julia Bouwsma