Poets House: a New York institution, an American treasure
Published: June 25, 2007
|When my publisher sent a copy of my collection to Poets House, I was pleased to know that my book would be part of something expansive. Poets House maintains what may be the world's greatest database of American poetry books, listing over 20,000 poetry titles published between 1990 and 2006.|
The online database is fully searchable. But the database isn't the only endeavor the New York-based organization undertakes. Poets House, currently located at 72 Spring St. in SoHo, also houses more than 45,000 volumes of poetry. Each year, PH holds a poetry showcase exhibiting poetry books, texts, CDs and DVDs published in a calendar year by more than 500 presses. In addition, the organization houses a collection of literary journals and chapbooks.
If you visit New York, you may be lucky enough to be there for one of the dozens of readings and programs held at this facility each year. Poets like Robert Bly, C.K. Williams and Linda Gregerson are a few of the many poets who have presented readings and lectures. Workshops and seminars are also offered.
One curiosity is the Poetry Hard Hat Tour. These tours offer prospective supporters an in-person look at plans for the new headquarters located in Battery Park City, where PH plans to move in 2008. Executive Director Lee Briccetti describes the spirit of the tour in comments on the organization's Web site, playing on the William Carlos Williams poem "The Red Wheelbarrow." "So, standing at the future site of our Reading Room," Briccetti notes, "there is a whirl of activity and a clear view out to the Statue of Liberty. ... So much depends on a blue wheelbarrow filled with cement!"
The Web site notes that the new building, located at 2 River Terrace, will include the highest "green" standards.
Poet's House was founded in 1985 by poet Stanley Kunitz and arts administrator Elizabeth Kray. Kunitz envisioned PH as a home for those who like to write poetry and those who like to read it. Kunitz was also a major influence on the MFA Program at Columbia University. Kunitz's attitude toward poetry was expansive--he believed poetry belonged to everyone, a key reason perhaps for his dedication to organizations like Poet's House.
During an interview with Mark Wunderlich for American Poet in 1997, Kunitz said, when asked about the role of poetry in our society, "Poetry is the medium of choice for giving our most hidden self a voice--the voice behind the mask that all of us wear. Poetry says, 'You are not alone in the world; all your fears, anxieties, hopes, despairs are the common property of the race.' "
Kunitz's expansive ideal lives on in the organization he helped to found. The lack of an apostrophe in Poets House says it all.
Visit Poets House on the Web: poetshouse.org
This is my last Poetry Beat column for The Writer. I've enjoyed sharing stories about poets and poetry, and I thank all of you for reading.
--Posted June 25, 2007