Happy Birthday! (But What Do You Get the Poetry Magazine That Has Everything?)

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January 25, 2012; Source: WBEZ  |  In 1912, philanthropist Harriet Monroe founded Poetry magazine with a little lovely prose that is as resonant today as it was then:

“In the huge democracy of our age,” said Monroe, “no interest is too slight to have an organ. Every sport, every little industry requires its own corner, its own voice that it may find friends, greet them, welcome them.”

In 2002, Ruth Lilly, then 87, gave $100 million over 30 years to establish The Poetry Foundation which has since published the magazine, a gift that made many gasp since the magazine had often teetered on the edge of a financial cliff. Among other things, the gift was spent on the erection of a $21.5 million building that some have called the “poetry palace.”

Lilly had submitted her own poetry to the magazine and been rejected on a number of occasions but apparently did not take it personally. Of course, she was up against some serious competition, since the magazine has published T. S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, John Ashbery and Wallace Stevens, among others. Lilly had made a number of previous donations, including providing an endowment for a prize named for her.

In this interview, listen to a radio discussion of some of the ways in which the money was spent, the effect on the organization, and the current place of poetry in our lives. –Ruth McCambridge