Prose from Poetry Magazine

September 1990

by Paul Durica

September 1990, Poetry Magazine

On December 26, 1961, Nelson Algren wrote to his lifelong friend, the journalist and author Herman Kogan (“Herm”):

J. Pat [J. Patrick Lannan] is thinking of giving Poetry a fresh shake and thinks I’m the right cat to shake it. It would pay $7,500 a year without being full time, but I doubt I ought to take it just because it isn’t full time. My answer was Gwendolyn Brooks.

Algren declined and there is no evidence of Brooks being asked. Brooks first appeared in this magazine in 1944. In the seventy-fifth anniversary issue of Poetry, she reminisced:

I see myself at fourteen—when I first began to pound at the gates of the magazine Poetry! It was a fourteen-year siege. But the rejection slips gradually gentled...and at last I was starred in the cherished magazine that above all others poets have considered The Goal.

Six years after her first appearance in Poetry, Brooks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her collection Annie Allen, making her the first African American to receive this honor. She received the Eunice Tietjens prize from Poetry in 1950 and was the featured poet on Poetry Day in 1990, joining a distinguished group that includes W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, and Elizabeth Bishop.

Lannan, whose foundation funds the annual Lannan Literary Awards, organized the first Poetry Day in 1955. The evening featured Robert Frost reading before a sold-out audience of 1,600 at the Blackstone Theater, followed by a private dinner and auction, which netted the magazine almost $30,000. The next year brought Carl Sandburg, who insisted the house lights be kept on so he could see his audience. This year Lannan Literary Award recipient Seamus Heaney will read at Poetry Day on October 18, the only writer to have been asked back.

Originally Published: September 4, 2012


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This prose originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2012


Paul Durica is a graduate student at the University of Chicago and the founder of Pocket Guide to Hell Tours and Reenactments.

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