The Poetry Foundation: History and Mission

Ruth Lilly Photo courtesy of the Lilly Family


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 works to raise poetry to a more visible and influential position in American culture. Rather than celebrating the status quo, the 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. In the long term, the Foundation aspires to alter the perception that poetry is a marginal art, and to make it directly relevant to the American public.

Established in 2003 upon receipt of a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, the Poetry Foundation evolved from the Modern Poetry Association, which was founded in 1941 to support the publication of Poetry magazine. The gift from Ruth Lilly has allowed the Poetry Foundation to expand and enhance the presence of poetry in America and has established an endowment that will fund Poetry magazine in perpetuity.

Harriet Monroe at her desk, c. 1925. Photo from the Poetry magazine archives


With Poetry magazine as its flagship initiative, the Foundation pursues its mission to celebrate and share the best poetry with the largest audiences through a family of programs.

Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe's "Open Door" policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry's mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing the first important poems of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In succeeding decades it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every significant poet of the 20th century. Poetry has always been independent, unaffiliated with any institution or university—or with any single poetic or critical movement or aesthetic school. It continues to print the major English-speaking poets, while presenting emerging talents, in all their variety. In recent years, more than a third of the authors published in the magazine have been young writers appearing for the first time. On average, the magazine receives over 90,000 submissions per year, from around the world.
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The Poetry Foundation hosts a robust schedule of live events throughout the year. Ranging from poetry readings to staged plays, events have also included artist collaborations, exhibition openings, and other performances. View our current events schedule.

The Poetry Foundation uses emerging technology to reach and engage a broad audience for poetry. Through its award-winning website, mobile applications, and social media, the Foundation seeks to create new readers of poetry, serve existing poetry fans, and support Foundation initiatives and programs.

The Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute is an independent forum created to provide a space 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. With this in mind, the Institute convenes leading poets, scholars, publishers, educators, and other thinkers from inside and outside the poetry world to address issues of importance to the art form of poetry and to identify and champion solutions for the benefit of the art.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps high school students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

Through active partnerships and sponsorships, the Foundation works to place poetry before the widest possible audience and raise it to a more visible and influential position in American culture. The Poetry Foundation helps support an enhanced presence for poetry in each of the major media channels: print, radio, television, film, and new media.

Taken as a whole, the Poetry Foundation's awards program serves the Foundation's mission: to discover and celebrate what is best in poetry and present it to the largest possible audience. The awards also directly support and encourage poets. The Pegasus Awards are a family of prizes intended to celebrate under-recognized poets and types of poetry. Awards are named annually or from time to time, as appropriate to maintain the prestige and quality of the prizes. The Children's Poet Laureate, appointed every two years, is a title given to a living American poet who writes exceptional poetry for the young child. The annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. The Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships are awarded to aspiring U.S. poets each year to encourage the further study and writing of poetry.

The Midwest's only library dedicated exclusively to poetry, the Poetry Foundation Library exists to promote the reading of poetry in the general public, and to support the editorial needs of all Poetry Foundation programs and staff. Visitors to the library may browse a collection of 30,000 volumes, experience audio and video recordings in private listening booths, and view exhibits of poetry-related materials. In addition to providing public access to its collections in the form of a reading room, the library creates interactive programs to inspire a wider readership for poetry in readers of all ages. The library's collection aims to present the best poetry, in English or in translation, of the modern and contemporary era, as well as including representative selections of the major poetic works of all eras. A children's collection contains a range of titles to engage young readers.

The Poetry Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. Read more about the Poetry Foundation's financial information.

We adhere to a strict set of policies within the Foundation to ensure that we conduct our business legally and ethically. Learn more about these policies.

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