For Immediate Release

Poetry Foundation’s Inaugural President, John Barr, Announces Retirement

Led Organization Dedicated to Strengthening Poetry’s Role in American Culture

March 15, 2012

CHICAGO—John Barr announced today that he will retire as the Poetry Foundation’s inaugural president at the end of 2012, after nearly a decade of leading the organization. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to increasing the art form’s presence in American culture by bringing quality poetry to the largest possible audience.

Under Barr’s leadership, the Foundation has greatly increased the national audience for poetry. The combined outreach of Poetry magazine, public programming and events, the Foundation website, and media partnerships now places poetry of the highest quality before 20 million people annually.

The Foundation was established following a stunning 2002 gift to Poetry magazine by philanthropist Ruth Lilly. The nearly $200 million endowment has been used to support the magazine and for the long-term benefit of poetry in general.

“To be the first president of the Poetry Foundation was to be present at a moment in literary history. The job brought together two of my great loves: poetry and business,” Barr said. “With the opening of our building last summer, all of the programs we envisioned eight years ago are up and running. 2012 is a year to celebrate anniversaries: for the Foundation a first decade, for Poetry a first century. It’s a fitting time to welcome the vision and energy of a new president.” 

Barr came to the Foundation after pursuing parallel careers in business and poetry. On Wall Street, he worked as a managing director at Morgan Stanley, founded and chaired the Natural Gas Clearinghouse, and established Barr Devlin (later acquired by Société Générale, where he served as a managing director and global sector head). As an active poet, Barr has published seven collections of poetry, with a new volume forthcoming in early 2013. In addition to having served on the boards of Yaddo, the Poetry Society of America, and Bennington College, he has also taught poetry in the Graduate Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College.

Poetry Foundation board chair John J. Kenney said Barr has been the right person for the job.

“In John Barr the Foundation found a person immersed in the world of poetry through his 50 years of writing, teaching, and serving organizations dedicated to it,” said Kenney. “As a successful entrepreneur, he knew how to turn an idea into a business plan; as a seasoned manager, he knew how to build an organization to implement that plan; as an investment professional, he knew the importance of preserving Ruth Lilly’s gift for poetry in perpetuity. The Foundation is forever grateful for his substantial achievements, but respects his desire to move on to new challenges in poetry.”

To help realize its mission of bringing quality poetry to the largest possible audience, the Foundation has introduced new poetry programs on the web and in other digital media; in high schools with its Poetry Out Loud recitation contest, which has attracted more than one million students nationwide since its founding in 2005; and on television, radio, and in print. It sponsors poetry awards such as the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition, and the Children’s Poet Laureate, given to a living American writer in acknowledgment of a career devoted to writing exceptional poetry for young children.

The Foundation’s new building, in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, features regular live poetry events, an exhibition gallery, a 30,000-volume library, and a public garden.

The board of directors of the Poetry Foundation will begin a nationwide search for Barr’s successor. 

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About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative partnerships, prizes, and programs. Opened to the public in June 2011, the Poetry Foundation building in Chicago provides new space for the Foundation’s extensive roster of public programs and events. It also houses a public garden, a library, and an exhibition gallery, as well as the offices of the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine. For more information, please visit www.poetryfoundation.org.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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