Is anyone more interested in poetry?

Poetry Foundation in ChicagoA house for poetry

"World's greatest pig butcher

Toolmaker, wheat stacker,

Railroad Operator and Nationwide Freight Manager;

impetuous, powerful, combative,

City of Broad Shoulders. "

This is what it says in Carl Sandburg's "Chicago Poems" about the city, also known as Windy City. Chicago's slaughterhouses have been a household name in Germany since Bertolt Brecht at the latest, even though the cityscape today is less defined by slaughterhouses than by skyscrapers, many of them from the architectural office of Mies van der Rohes. The building of the Poetry Foundation in the middle of downtown is also made of steel and glass, but this building does not soar possessively into the sky.

Rather, it brings light and air into its tree-lined inner courtyard, where an installation by Yoko Ono is currently on view.

An ambivalent financial blessing

"Chicago is a city that has enabled and supported our work for over a century, and one of the reasons we have this building here is that we wanted to give something back to the city, children and adults can come and read books, we hold events and much more. It's about staying connected to the city that has given us a home from the start. "

Don Share is the editor-in-chief of Poetry Magazines, the magazine that, founded in 1912 by Harriet Monroe and once a kind of spearheading American avant-garde poetry, received a legacy that is probably unique in the literary world. Ruth Lilly was the name of the rich lady who wrote herself, but according to legend, her poems were always rejected. Nevertheless, she bequeathed the magazine the fabulous sum of 200 million dollars in 2003. In addition, there were prizes and grants donated by Lilly as early as the 1990s. All in all, a mixed blessing for Don Share.

"I actually feel very uncomfortable with the power we have. Nobody who works in this area seeks power. It would be wrong to say that given our resources, we have no power, but nobody here seeks it. It helps us but at the same time bringing poems to the readers who can then also draw something from it. "

Declared versatility

The two-story building of the Poetry Foundation includes the offices of the 25 employees, an event room and a reference library with over 30,000 volumes of poetry. Don Share sits here on a sultry July day and reports that the magazine receives 250,000 poetry submissions a year, a quarter of a million poems, all of which he and another editor read. But how do you choose from such a large number of submissions? Can you print a maximum of sixty or seventy poems a month?

"After I took over as the editor in 2013, I wanted to open the door even further and follow the magazine's stated intention not to support a specific school, or a specific way of writing or thinking. I want to be versatile. whether someone is famous or has a big name. "

Robert Frost, Marianne Moore and John Ashbery published in Poetry Magazine, among many others. T.S. Eliot's "Liebesgesang des J. Alfred Prufrock" with its famous opening verses first appeared on his pages in 1915: "Let us got then, you and I, / when the evening is spread out against the sky."

"When TS Eliot's" Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock "was published in 1915, Eliot was in his mid-twenties, it was his first real publication. A lot of poets were first published here very early in their careers. I was interested in that tradition to pick up again, and to be true to this story and the idea. "

The pressure of the street

If you visit readings in the Foundation in the summer of 2019, but also in other places in Chicago, you will notice how political the poems that are being read are. Not only on the street there seems to be strong opposition to Donald Trump's politics, the poetry is also positioning itself, and those who do not write explicitly politically, point out the next demonstration before their reading or denounce the recent presidential monstrosity.

"We all know that there is a lot going on, that there is great unrest, change, difficulty, inequalities, and I think poems should be written in ways that take that into account, that ask questions. I did that before Election of 2016 done. It's not specifically about politics, I just mean that poetry should be involved in total, just as it can be involved in looking at a tree or a bird. Walking down the street and feeling the pressure, that too can do poetry, can do art. "

Don Share is certain that the development of poetry, its currently so pronounced cosmopolitanism, is not just an American phenomenon.

"It's a shift in perspective, and at the moment that's enriching us. I think that's happening in Great Britain too, they are also under pressure that it will also happen in the EU, in Germany. It would be crazy, not at least one To see a reflection of the awareness of the political situation, but that is not absolutely necessary. I do like poems that relieve us of the burden of the present for a moment. "

Editor-in-chief of the poetry magazine Don Sharpe ((c) Tobias Lehmkuhl)

In any case, says Share, it's not about what he likes personally, but about what could be interesting in a few months, when a new issue that is in the works appears. The range of the magazine should not be underestimated: The circulation of around 25,000 copies (the majority of which goes to subscribers) is downright astonishing for a poetry magazine, there is an app, but the website in particular is read worldwide. There is a huge print and audio archive here, and even the current issue of the magazine is freely available. The magazine in its analogue form is of course not in question in view of the foundation's funds. By the way, you can also purchase them in Germany by subscription, for just over forty euros a year.

No consideration for big names

"Nobody knows what will become of printed matter, but at the same time we are trying to make a magazine that attracts people as a printed object. If they hold on to it, touch it, leaf through it, they should be pinned on. This is almost a handicraft project that we do track here. "

In fact, the print quality is very high, the minimalist design is well thought out, and the content is surprising and cleverly composed. The current issue is entirely devoted to English-language poetry from the Indian world, the authors young and practically unknown in the USA. Indeed, Don Share does not have to take big names into account, but he is interested in accompanying young poets, even building them up. If he sees a good but not very good poem, he writes to the sender: Unfortunately I cannot print it, but send more! Which, given the abundance of submissions, speaks for a certain degree of madness.

"I'll stick with it, I'll keep looking, but I don't know what I'm looking for, you are looking in poetry for what you don't know you are looking for. It should take over you, and maybe change you a little bit, or a little bit too. "

Not only poets like Carl Sandburg or Gwendolyn Brooks, but also novelists like Saul Bellow or Upton Sinclair wrote about the city, which from Europe is always a little overshadowed by New York. Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and Sherwood Anderson were born here. And not to forget Barack Obama, who can also be counted as part of the writers' guild, just think of his book "Songs of our fathers". The broad shoulders of Chicago, sung about by Sandburg, is still extremely vital today, even if it is an airy poetry building that expresses this vitality. Editor-in-chief Don Share:

"Things are different here in Chicago, it's not a place to go, but in New York or Berlin you have to belong to a group. But anything can happen here, we had the first skyscrapers here because it's different from New York here doesn't have to do things a certain way. The horizon is wider. We don't want to be glamorous, more homemade, a little quirky. You know what? People keep chickens here! "