In which we visit poets

Today we took part in Open House Chicago, the annual event sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation that allows any member of the public behind-the-scenes access to ordinarily private spaces.

Of all the places we saw today, A#1 was the Poetry Foundation, best known as publisher of Poetry magazine. In 2007, this magazine, put together with integrity and devotion out of the basement of the Newberry Library, received a colossal gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly that ensures the magazine will be pretty much immortal. Ruth Lilly’s gift allows an ongoing host of prizes and initiatives that are working hard to move poetry from the ghostly margins to the heart of our society.

Her gift also allows the Poetry Foundation to have its own swell new home, a modernist structure on Superior street that is the site of its offices, its archives, a performance space for live poetry events throughout the year, plus the above, this inviting, gracious, light-filled reading room.  In the library, there are 30,000 books.  There are audio and video recordings.  It is open to all. The librarians are poets.  They are there to help you.

During our visit, we also spent quite a bit of time looking at the current exhibition “Poet Photos: from the Archives of Poetry Magazine” – snapshots submitted to Poetry over the years by its contributors.  The images are mischievously sorted by type – for instance, the poet on vacation, the poet with an animal (rather often, a reluctant cat), and an entire case of poets gazing off into the distance – and are pleasingly unlabeled. I didn’t recognize most of these faces (like me, you will probably be able to identify Allen Ginsberg and also will be able to say, “Hey, there’s an Airedale”), and I found the mystery made this an ever more fascinating window.

This year, friends, marks 100 years of Poetry magazine.

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