It’s Poetry magazine’s 100th birthday, and The Poetry Foundation is throwing a huge party befitting a publication that bills itself as “the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world.” Journalist Harriet Monroe founded Poetry in 1912 in Chicago with 100 subscribers. Today, Poetry is still headquartered in Chicago and has approximately 29,000 subscribers. The nonprofit Poetry Foundation, which was established in 2003 after billionaire philanthropist Ruth Lilly provided Poetry with a $100 million endowment the previous year, publishes the magazine.
Poetry’s 100th birthday party features a series of literary events set for downtown Chicago throughout the month of October, kicking off October 4 with a book launch party for The Open Door anthology, edited by Poetry editors Christian Wiman and Don Share. The Open Door, which includes 100 poems by 100 poets culled from the 40,000 poems contained in Poetry’s archives, was published by the University of Chicago Press, which is co-sponsoring the event. The initial print run for The Open Door is 10,000 copies.
Wiman and Share “really pulled out the wheat,” University of Chicago Press publicity manager Levi Stahl noted, “It ended up being a great picture of what this magazine has accomplished and what poetry has been for the last century.”
On October 7 and 8, the celebration continues with a one-hour performance of “Poetry on Stage: Harriet Monroe and the Modernists,” during which actors will read from correspondence between Monroe, her colleagues, and some of the prominent poets who’ve been published in Poetry, such as Robert Frost, Edna St. Vinent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Marianne Moore and T.S. Eliot. The script for “Poetry on Stage” was prepared by Second City comedy troupe co-founder Bernard Sahlins.
Poetry’s anniversary celebration will culminate on October 18 with an appearance by Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who will give the 2012 Poetry Day reading. Founded by the magazine’s staff in 1955 with an inaugural reading by Robert Frost, Poetry Day is one of the oldest reading series in the country. The annual event has featured readings by W.H. Auden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop, among other leading poets. It was, said Poetry Foundation media director Stephanie Hlywak, a fundraising event for Poetry until 2002; now it’s “a day of celebration.”
The celebration of Poetry’s anniversary is even spilling out into the streets of Chicago. The city, in partnership with the Poetry Foundation and the Chicago Department of Transportation, has commissioned a sculpture of Poetry’s emblem, “the Pegasus,” which will be created by artist and Poetry contributor Cathie Bleck, and installed on the Chicago River, on the east side of Michigan Avenue. The famous diamond-shaped slope topping the building at 150 N. Michigan Avenue will be illuminated with the word “Poetry” from October 1-7, and throughout the month, State Street, a main artery through the downtown and Loop areas, will be festooned with banners, planters, and news racks celebrating poetry and Poetry.