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From rhymes to riches: Poetry's sudden gift

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The arrangement has kept the operation afloat during times when Poetry had "just a hundred dollars in the till," according to senior editor Stephen Young. But every inch of shelf space is filled with poetry collections or past issues of the magazine, and the four-member staff is awash in books and paper. The book collection is so large - 25,000 to 30,000 titles - that much of it must be kept in the basement, two stories down. Papers heap and spill across a wide laminate table in the center of the room. Nine large boxes hold submissions from the last three months, and three postal bins overflow with new arrivals: The publication gets 90,000 submissions annually.

That number is expected to jump, as is circulation. In the past week, the four-member staff has processed 165 new subscriptions. Not bad, considering that total circulation is 10,000.

But as with most things in the literary world, numbers don't tell the whole story. Poetry is one of the most respected journals in the US, and since its beginning in 1912, it has introduced many now-classic modern poets, including Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. T.S. Eliot first published "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" on Poetry's pages. Ezra Pound's famous Imagist poem, "In a Station of the Metro" debuted here as well.

A library, a school, and books

Parisi hopes Lilly's gift will allow Poetry, the oldest continuous monthly devoted to verse, to continue breaking new ground. He already has some big ideas in mind, given that he'll no longer spend half his time fundraising.

He'll devote the next year to planning with Mr. Young and Deborah Cummins, president of the Modern Poetry Association, which publishes Poetry.

First, says Cummins, Poetry wants to create a library for serious scholars and the public, with a collection that would rival universities. Second, the new foundation plans to start a teachers' institute. The pilot program would invite select middle- and high-school teachers to "a total immersion experience" in Chicago, where master poets would introduce them to modern poetry. Eventually, poets could take the program across the US.

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