Chicago Real Estate Built For Poetry

June 23, 2011

The written word is getting its own Chicago home.

The first space in Chicago dedicated solely to the art of poetry will be opened by the Poetry Foundation on Saturday, June 25, though there will be a dedication at the new headquarters on Thursday.

A two-day grand-opening celebration will commence this weekend, with a lineup of poets who will participate in readings, panel discussions and book signings. There will also be activities, building tours and technology demonstrations.

All events are free and open to the public.

“We are excited to open our doors to the public and invite audiences from around the world to enjoy the art of poetry at a new destination,” said Donald G. Marshall, Poetry Foundation board chair. “The building reinforces our long-term commitment to the city of Chicago and adds to the city’s reputation as a leading center of literary activity on both a local and national level.”

The purpose of this new home is to help the Poetry Foundation carry out its mission of discovering and celebrating great poetry while putting it before the largest audience possible.

The two-story building, located at 61 West Superior Street, was designed by Chicago-based John Ronan Architects. It includes 22,000 square feet of interior space, an almost 4,000-square-foot public garden, a library holding a 30,000-volume non-circulating collection and an exhibition gallery.

The building is also environmentally sustainable and built to comply with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Silver Level LEED Rating System.

“The project is designed from the inside out. Its design is about relationships, not form or shape, and is predicated on the experience of the visitor, who moves through and between the various material layers that peel away to uncover the rich spatial sequence of the project,” said architect John Ronan. “Unlike much of contemporary architecture, it cannot be reduced to a single image; it has to be experienced to be understood. It is not meant to be a loud architectural statement that screams for attention, but a subtle spatial narrative that slowly unfolds.”

The total cost for the building, including land acquisition and construction, was $21.5 million.

Harriet Monroe

Harriet Monroe in 1925.

Poetry magazine, the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world, was founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912.

Monroe wrote that her publication was “a modest effort to give to poetry her own place.”

Now, poetry truly has its own place in Chicago.

Funding for Poetry Foundation programming will be made possible through a bequest from Indianapolis pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly, who had submitted poetry to the magazine over the years. She was never published, but she appreciated the magazine’s attention to fledgling writers and set up fellowships and endowments before awarding a historic financial gift in 2002.

The Poetry Foundation’s new Chicago home will become one of only three public spaces in the country built exclusively for the advancement of poetry, joining the Poets House in Manhattan and a poetry center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“Poetry is something people reach for at both the highs and lows of their lives. More and more people are discovering and enjoying poetry, and the growth of our programs really bears that out,” said Poetry Foundation president John Barr.

“Our new space preserves, creates, and ensures a future audience for poetry. The building will help us continue the oral tradition of reading and reciting poetry out loud, while shining a national spotlight on Chicago as the home of Poetry, one of the oldest and most important literary magazines in the English-speaking world.”

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