How to celebrate the five Illinois Poet Laureates

Did you know that each U.S. State has its own Poet Laureate? Carl Sandburg was the Illinois Poet Laureate from 1962-1967. In honor of his birthday today, I am flying the Illinois flag. This is the first flight of our Illinois flag. The first of many, I hope.

Brand new Illinois state flag being flown from a 1926 bungalow in the west suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Next to the flag is an image of Carl Sandburg displayed in the window.

In case people on our quiet street are wondering why I’m flying an Illinois flag, I posted an image of Carl Sandburg in the window next to the flag. This is his 1978 stamp.

1978 Carl Sandburg stamp printed on a 8.5×11 sheet of paper, displayed in the window of a 1926 bungalow in Illinois

Amazingly, you can easily buy this 45-year-old stamp for 31 cents each (with free shipping) on eBay. I got a block of 4 for $1.25. Yeah, it’s a bit more than the face value of 13 cents. But c’mon, paying 31 cents for a 45-year-old stamp is pretty cool.

Funny to think if slapped all four stamps on a letter today, it would still be insufficient postage. The four 13-cent stamps would add up to 52 cents. Short of the 60 (soon to be 63 cents) required today. When my stamps arrive, I’ll do a higher-res scan, so I have something better for the window. I’ll also make the high-resolution scan available online for anyone else who wishes to fly their Illinois flag on Carl Sandburg’s birthday on January 6th.

Who else has been the Illinois Poet Laureate?

The five Poet Laureates of Illinois:

  1. Howard B. Austin (1936-1962)
  2. Carl Sandburg (1962-1967)
  3. Gwendolyn Brooks (1968-2000)
  4. Kevin Stein (2003-2017)
  5. Angela Jackson (2020-present)

Do you know anything about these five poets?

The first poet, Howard B. Austin, is largely forgotten. In fact, he was COMPLETELY forgotten by the governor of Illinois. When Sandburg was declared the Poet Laureate of Illinois, the governor said Sandburg was the first one! Ummm. Hello. Howard B. Austin, anyone?

Sadly, Austin died a month after Sandburg’s inauguration.

Austin was forgotten a SECOND time when Brooks passed away in 2000. The press reports and state government website forgot all about Austin. Yipes.

Are you curious about Howard B. Austin’s poems? I am. If you are looking for a book of his poems, you are going to be out of luck. There appears to be only one collection of Howard B. Austin’s poems. “Selected Poems” was published in 1955. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is the only library in Illinois that has this book.

How is it that the first poet laureate has only ONE library in Illinois with his book?

Thankfully, someone made a website for him with his poems. ( In particular, I enjoyed his poem, “Just To Be A Dad“.

If Illinois is going to have a Poet Laureate, it would be nice if everyone would know something about their poems. Poems aren’t generally super-long to read. You’d think these would be easily distributed.

I’m going to find a poem by each of the five Illinois Poet Laureates, and put them into a little zine, “The Poet Laureates of Illinois: an unofficial collection”. I’ll put these zines into those “Little Libraries” you see in front of people’s houses. There are a few of those in Glen Ellyn that I see often.

As I find the poems for each of these five poets, I’ll update this blog post with the publications that contain their poems.

Howard B. Austin (1936-1962)

Selected Poems
Publisher:[Williamson Press], [Springfield, Ill], [1955]
Available in one library.

Carl Sandburg (1962-1967)

List of selected books coming. I’m hoping there are some books specific to his time as poet laureate from 1962-1967.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1968-2000)

List of selected books coming. I imagine she has a ton of books too, so maybe there is something specific to the midwest or Illinois.

I could offer this… sometime in the 1980s Gwendolyn Brooks visited my little grade school, Hope Lutheran School, on the south side of Chicago. I remember everyone making a big deal of it. My class sat on the linoleum basement floor in the far, far back of the meeting hall. My back sitting up against a cabinet holding sports trophies won by the church’s various sports teams from the 1950s. I don’t recall much else from that. Other than her reading poems on the stage on the other far side of the room.

Brooks also has a USPS stamp! Here’s is within the “Twentieth Century Poets” sheet of ten stamps released in 2012.

Set of 10 nondenominated (45¢) Twentieth-Century Poets forever stamps (Scott 4654-4663). The stamps were issued April 21, 2012, in panes of 20, which can be broken down into blocks of 10.
The poets commemorated are Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams, Robert Hayden, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Denise Levertov, E.E. Cummings and Theodore Roethke.

To get one Brooks stamp, you have to buy 10 stamps. This is a forever stamp, so the original value is not printed on the stamp. In 2012 each of these stamps cost $0.45. So it would have been $4.50 to buy the ten-stamp sheet.

Today on eBay, one sheet runs you $23. Ouch. Mind-boggling that you can buy a 1978 Carl Sandburg stamp for $0.31. Whereas one Brooks stamp from 2012 will cost you $23.00.

Kevin Stein (2003-2017)

I don’t know anything about Kevin Stein. Updates coming.

Angela Jackson (2020-present)

Angela Jackson has at least one book of her poems published, “More Than Meat and Raiment“. Published in just one year ago in January 2022, none of the libraries in the SWAN system have that book yet. (SWAN is of 100 libraries in Illinois that share interlibrary loans with each other). Just bizarre that none of these 100 Illinois libraries has the book from the current Illinois poet laureate. You know I’m going to be putting in a book request to my local library to carry this book.

In addition to books, I’ll also post each poet’s birthday, so you know when to fly the Illinois flag. I’ll be flying mine on each of their birthdays. Maybe I’ll also share some 8.5×11 printable posters to hang in your window too.

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