Poetry Foundation Commemorates New Building with Community Celebration
CHICAGO —The Poetry Foundation welcomed more than one thousand visitors this weekend to Chicago's first home for poetry. After six years of planning, the new $21.5 million building in the River North neighborhood is drawing national attention.
During the two-day community-wide open house, audiences enjoyed free performances, panel discussions, and book signings from poets Jack Prelutsky, Mary Ann Hoberman, J. Patrick Lewis, Atsuro Riley, Ange Mlinko, Elizabeth Alexander, Robert Hass, Sandra Cisneros, Edward Hirsch, Kay Ryan, and Billy Collins. All of the readings took place in the building's state-of-the-art performance space. Following each reading, audience members received commemorative, limited edition broadsides featuring verse from the poets.
Participants in the national high school poetry recitation contest Poetry Out Loud not only took part in the building’s dedication ceremony on June 23, but also recited poetry before an appreciative audience on Sunday. In the six-year history of the contest, more than a million students from thousands of high schools have participated.
"This weekend our building came alive with visitors who for the first time experienced poetry in a space made just for that purpose,” said Poetry Foundation president John Barr. “And we hope they will return. As a poem retains a freshness and magic that keeps the reader coming back, so this building will reward the repeat visitor.”
The building's primary purpose is to help the Foundation carry out its mission of discovering the best poetry and putting it before the largest possible audience. The ground floor is devoted to public use and features a public garden, a library housing more than 30,000 volumes, an exhibition gallery, and a multi-purpose performance space. Visitors also had the opportunity to use the Foundation’s new recording studio, interact with web resources and iPad and iPod applications, and watch Foundation-produced videos.
Located at 61 West Superior Street and designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects, the building spans 22,000 square feet. During the grand opening, John Ronan spoke about his experience drafting ideas for an artistic, cultural building in an urban environment.
“What is a building for poetry? Unlike a school, a church or a house, there is no paradigm for a building of this kind. This uncommon challenge deserved a unique response, one that would require a certain amount of invention on our part,” said Ronan. “Poets don’t invent words; they arrange them in a way that uncovers new meaning or allow us to discover something that was hidden in plain sight. In an analogous way, materials are the ‘words’ of the architect, building the poem. Similar to the task of a poet, my work is not about inventing new materials or forms, but putting materials together in meaningful yet unexpected ways to create spaces that invite exploration and discovery.”
Saturday evening 180 lucky fans saw singer-songwriter Neko Case give an intimate concert in the performance space. The Foundation held a lottery drawing and gave away 90 pairs of tickets for the celebratory concert. Case published an essay in Poetry magazine in November 2007 that conveyed the belief that poetry is for everyone.
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 literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit poetryfoundation.org.
Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. 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 major contemporary poet.