The Poetry Foundation has a mission to celebrate poetry and present it to the largest possible audience. Almost a hundred years since its inception in 1912 as Poetry magazine, the foundation carries on these principles by providing poetry a new home when its new public building opens this month.
“Designing a building from the ground up just for poetry was a huge opportunity,” says Poetry Foundation president John Barr. The two-story building, a 22,000-square-foot structure, is one of only three public spaces in the nation built for the advancement of poetry. The location will include the offices of the foundation and magazine, along with a multipurpose performance space acoustically designed for the spoken word, a public garden, a library holding a collection of 30,000 volumes, and an exhibition gallery. The structure’s aesthetics were an important part of the design. Local architect John Ronan, Barr says, “took one art form, poetry, and translated it into another one, architecture.”
The space will allow for an increased amount of sponsored public events, such as readings and lectures. “As we enter our centennial year, the magazine will engage with its readers in monthly issue discussion groups,” says Stephanie Hlywak, Poetry Foundation’s media director. The space was created to offer the public a place in which to comfortably enjoy the arts. With the resurgence of poetry in youth culture, one the foundation has fostered in its Poetry Out Loud program, the space will give those new to the medium a place to explore and learn. Programming will be presented by the foundation, but also solicited from local literary organizations. “The performance space is something we hope other organizations will use to explore the intersections of their work and poetry,” offers Hlywak.
The grand opening of the building will be celebrated with an open house that includes events ranging from book signings and readings to tours of the building. One scheduled event will showcase local high school student contestants from Poetry Out Loud. “Local participants will be among the first to use our new building when they record their recitations in our new recording studio,” says Hlywak. The public is welcomed to explore the space and gain an understanding of what the building represents: a location in which to discover poetry at its finest. “Just as a good poem benefits from multiple readings, our building will reward the visitor who comes more than once,” says Barr.
With the opening of its doors in its location in downtown Chicago, the space will offer a future of possibilities that the foundation hopes will flourish. “Our aim is to discover and celebrate the best poetry, wherever it may be found,” says Barr. “The history of the magazine, from Carl Sandburg to Gwendolyn Brooks, shows that Chicago has always been one source of that best poetry. We look forward to continuing that tradition.” (John Wawrzaszek)
The Poetry Foundation Open House, 61 West Superior, takes place June 25-26. Visit poetryfoundation.org for ticketing information.