Ilya Kaminsky

An Open Letter from the Director

September, 2011

This year, The Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute has launched several new projects aimed at expanding and deepening the conversation about poetry and poetics across frontiers. We are currently focusing on bringing poetry to younger audiences, as well as thinking about how best to create an infrastructure for an international poetic conversation that will inspire and further educate American poets.

Poets In the World

Expatriate poets, from Gertrude Stein to Robert Bly, have historically brought innovative ideas and influences into American poetics, acted as envoys to the larger world and brought new energy back into our native literature. In recent years, this inter-cultural conversation seems to have slowed down; for example, currently, only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation.

To encourage further literary and cultural exchange, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute will invite well-known US poets to reflect on how their country’s poetics as well as their own work has changed through interaction with other poetries. We will also compile a number of practical guides for younger American poets interested in pursuing different paths and learning more about the larger world.

International Poets in Conversation

In order to help bring the United States back into this vital international conversation, we created “International Poets in Conversation: a Consortium,” an association of literary and academic institutions committed to bringing international poets to the United States. As a pilot project for this program, we helped bring Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger to the United States last spring. In addition to his visit to Chicago, Šteger visited a number of literary institutions nationwide. Not long after his visit, he was awarded the National Translation Book Award. This fall, we brought acclaimed Chilean Raul Zurita to the US, where he read and spoke about his work at the Poetry Foundation and several other institutions across the US. In the coming months, we are also hoping to bring Adonis, one of the best living authors currently at work in Arabic, and Vera Pavlova, a well-known Russian poet.

If your institution would like to participate in this Consortium, please contact Beth Allen at: ballen@poetryfoundation.org.

Poetics of Six Continents

Visiting writers will help spark conversation and new ideas, but how can we keep the dialogue between international poets and their American counterparts alive and flourishing after they go home?

To answer this question, we have established our Poetics of Six Continents program, which will pair a poet from Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, or Australia with a poet from the US. These poets will correspond for the period of three to five months, about the literary cultures and poetics of their respective countries. Look for more details about such collaborations between Raul Zurita and Forrest Gander, as well as Vera Pavlova and Major Jackson in the upcoming months.

Poetry & Kids

In recent years, we’ve noticed very few after-school programs for children and teenagers. Google “poetry for teenagers” and a major city, such as Los Angeles, and you will get very few results. Now, Google “music for teenagers,” and you will find dozens of different programs for piano, drum, etc.

To begin the conversation about how to bring poetry to younger audiences, The Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, in collaboration with McSweeney’s (well known for its successful 826 National Writing and Tutoring Centers) will invite acclaimed US poets and educators to speakabout the deep need for such activities. We will also compile several practical guides for younger American poets interested in learning more about how to introduce after-school poetry programming into their communities.

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The mission of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute is to provide a space in which fresh thinking about poetry can flourish free of any allegiance other than to the best ideas. We hope that these new programs will help us to convene leading poets, scholars, educators, and other thinkers, from inside and outside of the American poetry world, to address issues of importance to poetry.

—Ilya Kaminsky

 

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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