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For twenty-five years, Poets House has been an anchor for poets and poetry lovers. It was located first in a home-economics room at the High School for the Humanities in Chelsea, before settling in on the second floor of a loft building at 72 Spring Street in SoHo.
Today, writes Robin Pogrebin in the NY Times, Poets House opens in a spacious new home in Battery Park City, right by the Hudson River at the corner of Maurray Street.
Lee Bricetti, executive director for 20 years, says
The goal of the place is to make everyone feel that poetry belongs to them. Anyone can come and experience poetry in a new way that will deepen their relationship to language.
Poets House has a rent-free lease through 2069 from the Battery Park City Authority. Poets House raised the money for construction of the interior, $11 million, from public and private sources, including $3.5 million from the city.
According to Kate D Levin, New York City’s cutural affairs commissioner, “There has been an upswing in the appetite for poetry.”
She sees the advent of poetry slams and spoken-word events as factors in moving poetry away from an “association with a rarefied crowd to a more populist world, and the Poets House folks are tapped into that.”
Poets House is one of the first cultural organizations to open downtown since 9/11.
David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, says “It’s part of an effort to make Lower Manhattan an arts community.”
And Warrie Price, founder and president of the Battery Conservancy, feels
It gives us an anchor in the creative arts. Melville lived here, Eugene O’Neill — our landscape has hosted great writers. To have Poets House create a center is in a sense going back to that history.
Because previously there was always the chance of losing the lease, Poets House patrons and writers always had a provisional feeling. Poet Edward Hirsch, who is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which awards fellowships to artists, scientists and scholars, ays “Now there is the sense that something sold and permanent is there.”
The interiors of the new Poets House, with its extensive use of glass, was designed by Louise Braverman.
Stanley Kunitz, who was a founder of Poets House in 1985, wrote in the preface of his “Collected Poems:”
I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through it and see the world.
Glass walls surround the entryway, in which a Calder mobile floats. Glass walls also enclose the second floor exhibition space. The blocklong second floor reading room offers views of trees and water and is punctuated by nooks and a quiet reading space, writes Pogrebin. There is no talking aloud. Photographs of contemporary poets, taken by Lynn Saville, line the walls.
The children’s room contains old card catalogues with poems in the drawers. It is to feature special programming beginning next April.
The staircase is wired for sound, so when people pass, a motion sensor might trigger a spoken line from a poet like Robert Frost.
Marie Howe, a poet and professor at Sarah Lawrence College, says she plans to bring her students to Poets House. “They should have a huge sign outside: ‘Rest is here. Safety is here. Nourishment is here.”
Stanley Kunitz, who was US Poet Laureate at the age of 95 and who died in 2006 at the age of 100, is a huge presence in the new space. The conference room bears his name. His library was donated to Poets House, and fills the shelves.
And his private collection of paintings by the Abstract Expressionist Philip Guston cover walls. Many feature lines from Kunitz’s poems.
Poetry has a history in Battery Park City. Poets House has held outdoor poetry readings there. New York Waterway has adorned a few of its ferries with verse from the poets featured in those readings.
In Rockefeller Park, just a few yards south of Poets House, poems are engraved on the stones: Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist,” and Mark Strand’s “Continuous Life.”
In North Cove, nearby, lines from Whitman and Frank O’Hara are welded into the fencing that surrounds the harbor. Lines from Marianne Moore and Claude McKay are etched at Stuyvesant Plaza.
Actor Bill Murray says “Poets need a refuge — they need a hideout, a clubhouse.”
He gave the lead gift to create a catalog for Poetry house.
The actor participates in the annual Poetry Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, during which Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is among the poems read aloud.
Bill Murray says some people may never recognize the literary treasure trove in their midst, just as most people walk by St Patrick’s Cathedral or use it as a place to light a cigarette or make a phone call.
But those who find themselves in the vicinity of Poets House
will be right next to this sort of human church. There’s a possibility. That’s all you can do — create a possibility.
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