Director: Katharine Coles
March 4, 2009
Last year, the Poetry Foundation announced the launch of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, the purpose of which is to convene interested parties to champion common solutions for the benefit of poets and the art form of poetry. The Institute has now, as of January 1, launched its first project, which is aimed at exploring issues related to ensuring a vigorous presence for poetry in various forms on new-media outlets.
From the beginning, the intention has been to create an independent forum in which fresh thinking about poetry, in both its intellectual and its practical needs, can flourish free of any allegiance other than to the best ideas. In order to help frame the Institute’s first efforts and best determine how the poetry community might work together for the benefit of the art form, the Poetry Foundation asked members of the poetry community to describe in their own words the most pressing needs of poetry and the poetry community. Close to 170 replies were received, some in response to an open call for ideas in the president’s annual letter, but most in response to a questionnaire sent to 600 poetry community members. Those who responded included poets, publishers, critics, booksellers, educators, readers, and arts administrators. These responses were the first materials I saw when the Poetry Foundation began to speak to me about the Institute last fall, and they were powerfully persuasive that the Institute was an idea whose time had come.
Among the concerns most often articulated in the replies were those regarding audience development; a perceived reduction of publication and distribution opportunities; the relevance of poetry in a new-media world; problems facing translators of poetry; and both the importance of education and the challenges of teaching poetry in classrooms. As we began our thinking both about the questionnaires and about our less formal conversations with poets, we realized we wanted to find a topic that would not just address a single issue but rather acknowledge how deeply many of these issues are connected.
Thus, the topic we have identified is Poetry and New Media. The working group we have assembled to think about it over the next year will forge “best practices” recommendations for the preparation, distribution, and reception of poetry through new-media platforms, including not only those with which we are already familiar (radio, television, the Internet, podcasting, and so on) but also those that are now emerging and that will emerge in the future. I believe I speak for everyone in the group in saying that everyone wants to create a standard that will both protect the intellectual property of poets and publishers and ensure a vigorous presence for poetry in all its forms in new-media outlets. We believe that this topic touches on almost every aspect of the creation and transmission of poetry. We also believe that this is a conversation whose time has come.
In assembling our working group, we looked for individuals who would bring passion and skills along with energy and intelligence to the discussion. As you look at the makeup of the group, you will, I believe, be as excited and impressed by the caliber of leadership and mind it represents as I am. In addition to distinguished poets and publishers and others connected to the creation and distribution of poetry, the group includes attorneys and a world-class computer scientist.
In spite of the real concerns and anxieties about the future of poetry articulated not only in our questionnaire but also in our journals, in the hallways of our educational institutions, and on panels at writers’ conferences and at AWP, our conversations have represented the optimism and resilience of those devoted to poetry as an art form. Thank you in advance for your time and support.
Katharine Coles, Director
Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute