Small feasts


Chicago may be the city of big shoulders, but when it comes to magazines, Chicago poets have kept their publications small. The city’s “little” (as opposed to mass market) magazines have a long history of disseminating poetry throughout the nation. The current Special Collections exhibit, From Poetry to Verse: The Making of Modern Poetry and City Lights Pocket Poets Series, draws on the Regenstein Library’s modern poetry collection to examine the “highly risky endeavor” that poetry magazine editors have undertaken in Chicago and elsewhere.

Harriet Monroe put the city on the poetry map in 1912 when she launched Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Securing funds from city businessmen and civic leaders, Monroe solicited poems from a range of writers, including Ezra Pound. The magazine’s first “foreign correspondent,” Pound introduced Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, the 1913 Nobel laureate in literature, to Poetry’s pages. Poetry was the first to publish Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. Today the publication receives more than 90,000 submissions each month. In 1936, after her death, the University received Harriet Monroe’s poetry library, her personal papers, and the editorial files of Poetry magazine.

Students at the University launched their own magazine, Chicago Review, in 1946. The editors’ mission was to “present a contemporary standard of good writing” and to compensate for the “exaggerated utilitarianism” they saw in postwar American universities. The Review achieved national infamy in the late 1950s, when then-editors Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll, AM’52, published excerpts from William Burrough’s Naked Lunch. Facing censorship from the University, the editors created an independent journal, naming it Big Table at Jack Kerouac’s request. Though short-lived, Big Table had lasting impact, publishing Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” and John Ashbery’s “Europe.”

The Special Collections exhibit runs through February 12, 2006.

Meredith Meyer, ’06

Photo: Harriet Monroe (top) and an early copy of Poetry (bottom).

November 11, 2005