All thy heart is set on high designs,
High actions; but wherewith to be atchiev’d?
—Satan, in John Milton, Paradise Regain’d, Book II (1671)
Over its 106-year history, Poetry has taken on different shapes, sizes, and styles. Some of the changes to this magazine’s design were sudden—and short-lived—and some were the results of long deliberations, and lasted for years. More often than not, cover redesigns and interior redesigns did not quite coincide—and such is the case with the Poetry Foundation’s 2017 rebranding. With this issue, the inside of the magazine has at last caught up with its exterior. The last overhaul of the magazine’s look and feel came in 2005, and though it served us well for a dozen years, our look is changing just as poetry itself is. What remains consistent is that, as historian Paul F. Gehl has said about the history of these developments, Poetry’s appearance is above all “a visual way of evoking the magic of poetry.”
A teacher or parent, or some other wise wag, has probably exhorted you not to judge a book by its cover, and Poetry is, in essence, a book published every month. We’ve received, just as all of our predecessors did, a variety of responses to our new covers that fail to mention the content bound together by them; and that’s OK. Naturally, our readers will have thoughts and feelings about the magazine’s size, the paper we use, the fonts, and other elements of our presentation, and we welcome comments should you have them. However you might feel about the changes we’ve made, Poetry’s new look and feel reflect a commitment to the same principle that motivated the last refresh, and indeed all those that came before, which is to publish a poetry magazine that is “legible and elegant and extremely readable at small sizes.”
I can editorialize further about these matters, but I hope that the poems we publish remain the focus of attention, and that this new design will help send them appealingly out into the world—into your world. No design can accomplish this perfectly, but it is our belief that this new presentation of Poetry will facilitate our long-standing mission to put the best possible poetry in front of the widest possible audience.
I quote John Milton’s Satan in my epigraph, but the devil, as an unknown poet famously remarked, is in the details. Here is how designer Michael Bierut describes how he and Pentagram went about creating our new design:
As an art form, poetry is in a delicate balance between tradition and modernity. We found this to be true when we were designing the identity for the Poetry Foundation back in 2016, and even more pertinent when we were brought on to redesign the interiors of the magazine itself. Poetry is a publication with huge symbolic meaning to the poets and artists who appear in its pages, and as such, every detail of the editorial design, from the structure of the page grid to the personality of the typeface used for the poems, had to be carefully considered.
The redesign strives to be mindful of the deep relationship between poetry and typographic form, and yet also modernize the look and feel of the magazine. We decided to set poems in Untitled Serif, a modern take on early twentieth-century typefaces. We coupled Untitled with Gibson, the sans serif that was used in the Foundation’s visual identity. Not only does this make the two entities visually cohesive, but the bold, solid character of the Gibson typeface anchors the page as headers and page numbers. Underlying these elements is a grid that allows for more new forms of poetry—pieces that are paving the way toward the future of the art form. Since its founding, Poetry has been dedicated to giving space to new and emerging forms of poetry. With the redesign, we hope that the magazine will be able to do this for years to come.
For those who were fond of our previous look, as we ourselves have been, let me end with Harriet Monroe’s own revolutionary way of thinking about tradition, which, she wrote in 1913, “ceases to be of use the moment its walls are strong enough to break a butterfly’s wing.” She always preferred what she called “the free foot in the wilderness” on the path forward; we hope with our new look that we are faithful to her vision, and that this issue, like all those that came before it, constitutes another step forward.
Don Share became the editor of Poetry in 2013. His books of poetry are Wishbone (2012), Squandermania (2007), and Union (2013, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012), and editor of Bunting's Persia (2012) and a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems (2016). He...