Harriet Monroe Founds Magazine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Harriet Monroe’s founding of the magazine Poetry played a critical role in the renaissance and development of modern American poetry.

Summary of Event

When she established Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in 1912, Harriet Monroe chose as the journal’s motto a line from Walt Whitman: “To have great poets we must have great audiences too.” She was dismayed that of all the arts in the United States, poetry received the least attention, and she maintained that American poets suffered from having no outlet for their work. The main outlets of the day were The Atlantic, Harper’s, and Scribner’s magazines; these, however, were publishing only the most conventional verse. Monroe called the poems in the current American press “piles of rubbish” and warned that American poetry was losing vitality. It was not that great poets did not exist: “A Milton might be living in Chicago today and be unable to find an outlet for his verse,” she announced in the Chicago Tribune on the eve of publishing the first issue of Poetry. Poetry Magazines;Poetry Poetry (magazine) [kw]Harriet Monroe Founds Poetry Magazine (Oct., 1912) [kw]Monroe Founds Poetry Magazine, Harriet (Oct., 1912) [kw]Poetry Magazine, Harriet Monroe Founds (Oct., 1912) [kw]Magazine, Harriet Monroe Founds Poetry (Oct., 1912) Poetry Magazines;Poetry Poetry (magazine) [g]United States;Oct., 1912: Harriet Monroe Founds Poetry Magazine[03180] [c]Literature;Oct., 1912: Harriet Monroe Founds Poetry Magazine[03180] [c]Publishing and journalism;Oct., 1912: Harriet Monroe Founds Poetry Magazine[03180] Monroe, Harriet Chatfield-Taylor, Hobart C. Pound, Ezra

Monroe, herself a modestly successful poet, stated that the aim for her magazine would be to develop a public “interested in poetry as art.” Charming and strong willed, she believed deeply in the importance of poetry. She intended to provide her fellow poets with a forum and a place to share their work. Most important, she aimed to correct an imbalance she perceived in the arts that cast poetry as unfashionable. Poetry would be the poets’ magazine.

The daughter of a prominent, erudite lawyer, Monroe was a native Chicagoan who worked as an art and drama critic for the Chicago Tribune and who had had a volume of her own poetry published in 1891. When Chicago was chosen as the site for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892, she offered to write a dedication poem for Chicago’s new auditorium, an endeavor that suited her intention of creating a place for poetry alongside the arts of music, painting, and architecture. After working for nearly three years on “The Columbian Ode,” a verse celebration of her love for her native city, she was rewarded by seeing her ode recited by a chorus of five thousand voices during the auditorium’s dedication. Monroe became a local celebrity. Writers and journalists, including Margaret Sullivan and Eugene Field, became her friends and sponsors.

In relation to getting her magazine launched, her most important friend was Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor, a wealthy and socially prominent philanthropist and novelist. Her choice of sponsor was crucial and well made; Poetry’s longevity can be in part attributed to his simple idea for laying a financial foundation that would last—an unusual success in the history of little magazines (those literary periodicals that exist outside the field of the commercial or “established” press). Chatfield-Taylor proposed to get one hundred of his Chicago friends and contacts to donate fifty dollars each per year for five years. He predicted that five thousand dollars would cover printing and office expenses, allowing the editors to use money from subscriptions to pay contributors for their work. Chatfield-Taylor made the calls himself and raised the cash in less than a year.

By June, 1912, Monroe had an office and was preparing a circular to announce Poetry as “this first effort to encourage the production and appreciation of poetry, as the other arts are encouraged, by endowment.” She had spent hours in the Chicago Public Library poring over English and American poetry magazines to compile a list of poets to solicit. She rejected poets who wrote “in the same old academic way” in favor of those who dealt with modern subjects and experimented with form. The eager responses of her selected poets began pouring in within weeks. In September, the most zealous reply of all arrived from Ezra Pound, who had established himself in London as a talented young poet and as a scout and supporter of poets whom he considered talented.

Monroe was impressed with Pound and agreed with his suggestion that he keep her in touch with “whatever is most dynamic in artistic thought, either here or in Paris.” She offered him the post of foreign correspondent, and he accepted just in time for his name to appear on the masthead of the first issue, dated October, 1912. Monroe contributed an expected editorial on the status of poetry and a complaint against its neglect. As editor, she also offered some mainly stiff and archaic poems from Grace Howard Conklin and Emilia Stuart Lorimer, among others.

The immediate response to Poetry’s first issue was amused condescension in the East. A Philadelphia headline smirked “Poetry in Porkopolis,” explaining that Chicago’s proceeds from pork were promoting Chicago’s poetry; the New York World snickered that the “slender wooers of the muse” would now “wend their way Chicagoward.” Some angry correspondents wrote in to express patriotic indignation over Pound’s “To Whistler, American” (one of two poems he provided for the first issue), which contained the lines “You and Abe Lincoln from that mass of dolts/ Show us there’s chance at least of winning through.” Monroe defended her contributor rather uneasily, given that, although she agreed with Pound that poets had been doltishly ignored in her country, she intended to make Poetry first of all an American magazine.

The first few issues made it apparent that Monroe was still figuring out just what kind of poetry she really was seeking. Her choices were traditional in taste, and three free-verse pieces by Richard Aldington in the second issue were also far from modern or experimental in subject. By Poetry’s third issue, however, Pound had moved toward center stage, supplying contributions by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats and poems by the Imagist H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) for issue four. The assistant editor, Alice Corbin Henderson, claimed the new vers libre as an American phenomenon. Issue six, the high point of Pound’s influence on the magazine, contained F. S. Flint’s historic note on the history of Imagism and its three golden rules, as well as Pound’s famous “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.”

Monroe, meanwhile, was steadily coming into her own as a creative and outspoken editor whose vision guided Poetry through the next few years, even though her magazine came to be known by some as Pound’s mouthpiece. She continued to print more accessible American poetry and traditional pieces despite his rebuke. She adopted two homegrown American heroes of poetry, Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay, neither to Pound’s taste. A final division between Pound and Monroe occurred in 1915 over her slowness to accept T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which Pound had sent to her with his most emphatic praise. Although she recognized the poem’s great power—if not its greatness—the work repelled her. Pound continued in his post as foreign correspondent until 1919, although his involvement with the magazine was never again exclusive. He supplied The Little Review, Little Review, The (magazine) Poetry’s main rival, with the best of Yeats and Eliot and reserved his own work for Monroe.

During the World War I years, Monroe’s taste became increasingly provincial, although she campaigned against patriotic verse and “war songs.” Instead, she published Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnets, some trench poems by Isaac Rosenberg, and Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.” Nevertheless, she seemed more comfortable printing cozy, sentimental verse than she was publishing antiwar poems. D. H. Lawrence (whose antiwar poem “Resurrection” appeared in June, 1917) wrote to say that he found the “glib irreverence” of some of her contributors offensive.

In the postwar years, Monroe’s patriotism became more pronounced. She announced that the new mission of Poetry would be to articulate the imaginative life of the American nation, not the cosmopolitan and “superintellectualized” concerns of expatriate groups in London and Paris. She became fond of poems celebrating the land and of American Indian dialogues and chants. Although she still included the work of intellectual poets such as Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams and published good poems by Robert Frost and Marianne Moore in the 1920’s, her patriotic course led her to champion many mediocre and forgotten poets—including her favorite, Lew Sarett.

In her later years, she devoted less and less time to the magazine and threw her energies into foreign travel. She died in Peru in 1936 while crossing the Andes en route to an international writers’ congress in Buenos Aires. The December, 1936, issue of Poetry carried tributes from friends and colleagues. An accurate and heartfelt tribute from Ezra Pound credited Monroe with the achievement of having made Poetry the most “durable” of the little magazines as a result of her staunchly inclusive editorial policy. As he pointed out, the other little magazines of the twenty-four-year period of her editorship, however brilliant they might have been, “were all under sod in the autumn of 1936.”

Significance

Many literary historians consider the October, 1912, publication of Poetry’s first issue the beginning of a poetic renaissance in the United States. It was the start of a new era in modern American poetry, fueled by the existence of a magazine that Monroe vowed would encourage, support, and inspire poetry for its own sake. She was determined to avoid a condescending attitude bent on “delivering great poetry on high to a skeptical and unwilling audience.” Her willingness to accept submissions from anyone as long as the poetry was good allowed her magazine to deliver to the widest possible audience a monthly sampling of what poets far and wide were writing.

The poets’ concerns, talents, and approaches varied greatly, but Monroe believed that “diversity of presentation” would be the life of the magazine. She intended to judge each work by its own specific merit. Although she never hid her prejudice against poems that were “cryptic” in thought, she was willing to print an experiment if she believed the poem had integrity. Her liberal editorial policy led to much criticism. Poetry’s conventional rival, The Dial, considered her policy bizarre and even shocking. As critic Horace Gregory pointed out, however, her open-mindedness was sometimes mistaken for haphazardness by those unable to see that she chose as her task to incite and encourage poetic revolution. Often her theoretical support of the new was betrayed by a fondness for tradition, but Monroe did much to defend the controversial and previously unacceptable in poetry.

An editorial innovation begun by Monroe and still followed by many contemporary little magazines was the special issue. Special issues focused on the poetry of geographic regions or on certain schools of poetry. Monroe edited an issue on the American Southwest, for example, and another on India. This innovation was extremely successful, because it allowed work of a certain style or cultural background to be displayed to its best advantage. Another editorial innovation credited to Monroe was the inclusion of book reviews and editorials that made worthy but obscure works and writers better known. Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robinson Jeffers were introduced to the American public in Poetry by sympathetic fellow poets who reviewed their work.

At Pound’s urging, Poetry began early to publish translations of poetry from other languages. During Karl Shapiro’s tenure as editor in the 1950’s, the emphasis on translations reached a peak with special issues on Greek and postwar French poetry. Shapiro introduced Max Jacob, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Stephan George to Poetry’s audience.

Monroe believed that an extremely important but rarely recognized element of Poetry’s leadership was that it paid—promptly—for contributions even in times of financial difficulty. The awarding of yearly prizes was a tradition begun by Poetry’s first editor that is still followed; the first annual award of $250 went to Yeats for his poem “The Grey Rock.”

The most remarkable feat of Poetry’s long career is its history of having consistently published the work of the most prominent poets alongside the work of those who would become prominent in the future. The magazine can be credited with discovering many leading modernist and contemporary poets. Monroe introduced Eliot, Yeats, Sandburg, Frost, Amy Lowell, and Marianne Moore to the American public; subsequent editors published works by Stephen Spender, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Engle, Conrad Aiken, Dylan Thomas, James Merrill, John Ciardi, Robert Lowell, Muriel Rukeyser, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, W. H. Auden, John Berryman, Robert Graves, W. S. Merwin, Theodore Roethke, Robert Creeley, and Denise Levertov, among others.

The balance of newness and tradition that Monroe established as Poetry’s hallmark continued to be reflected in succeeding decades. Monroe’s life’s work endures in Poetry. In the twenty-first century, Poetry remains a respected forum for talented poets and a source of energy and innovation in the field of contemporary poetry. Poetry Magazines;Poetry Poetry (magazine)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beach, Christopher. The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Briefly discusses movements in American poetry during the twentieth century. Introduces readers to the work of many of the same poets whose work first appeared in Poetry magazine. Includes glossary and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cahill, Daniel J. Harriet Monroe. New York: Twayne, 1973. Assesses the value of Monroe’s contribution to the modern poetry movement by presenting examples of her own work and examining the significance of her editorship of Poetry. Includes annotated bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamilton, Ian. The Little Magazines: A Study of Six Editors. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976. Discusses six little magazines chosen as the most memorable of the twentieth century: three published in the United States and three published in England. Lively chapter on Poetry discusses in depth Pound’s involvement with and influence on the early issues as well as Monroe’s initial conservatism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Monroe, Harriet. A Poet’s Life: Seventy Years in a Changing World. New York: Macmillan, 1938. Autobiography, unfinished at the time of Monroe’s death, is one of the most complete documents available concerning the history of Poetry magazine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schulze, Robin G. “Harriet Monroe’s Pioneer Modernism: Nature, National Identity, and Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 21, no. 1 (2004): 50-67. Scholarly analysis places Monroe’s approach to poetry within the context of the Progressive Era in the United States and the early modernist period in literature.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Ellen. Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance: The First Ten Years of “Poetry,” 1912-22. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Detailed account of the first ten years of Poetry describes the literary scene that spawned it and Monroe’s friendships, correspondences, and literary battles. Appendix provides details on Poetry’s income, expenditures, and circulation during that decade.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Poetry.” In American Literary Magazines: The Twentieth Century, edited by Edward Chielens. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Presents a history of Poetry from its founding through 1989, describing how changes in editorship shaped the magazine and how it managed to survive financially. Includes notes and bibliography.

Rilke’s Duino Elegies Redefines Poetics

Pound Announces the Birth of the Imagist Movement

Yeats Publishes The Wild Swans at Coole

Pound’s Cantos Is Published

Eliot Publishes The Waste Land

Crane Publishes The Bridge

Auden’s Poems Speak for a Generation

García Lorca’s Poet in New York Is Published

Categories: History Content