Reviewing America’s Oldest Poetry Journal
Poet Lore serves as a solid pillar of both historical and contemporary literary journals by being the oldest poetry-based publication in the United States. Now located out of our very own Bethesda, Maryland and backed by The Writers’ Center, a nonprofit, this journal has been published out of a handful of different cities for nearly 140 years. Founded in Philadelphia, the journal in its formative years was a comparative literature project of Shakespearean scholars and life partners, Helen Clarke and Charlotte Porter; though the two quickly shifted their focus to that of living writers. The women moved to Boston after two years where the journal remained until it was bought by Washington D.C.’s Heldref Publications in 1976. Eventually, it shifted to The Writer’s Center where it has been published biannually for the last 25 years. In its longevity, the journal has had the opportunity to publish the early works of renowned poets like David Baker and Mary Oliver.
It is clear that Poet Lore’s staff is proud of its long and inclusive history. The website declares that “poetry provides a record of human experience as valuable as history”, emphasizing not only the importance of history but the inherent value of the written word. The journal publishes content that is both urgent and intimate, offering its audience “poems built to last” with an emphasis on quality. In an interview with Frontier Poetry, Poet Lore editor Emily Holland said, “we love featuring poems that broaden the spectrum of what poetry is – and can be – on the page.” In fact, the editors are so dedicated to the vast possibilities of poetry that in their newly redesigned issue, the editors opted for a larger trim size to publish poems that might not format well on a standard book-size page. They also printed multiple poems to a page to show connections between pieces. This sizing detail is one example of how the team emphasizes voices that lack widespread renown, reconfiguring the journal itself to better accommodate its contributors. In doing so, Poet Lore remains true to the vision of its founders by maintaining its progressive and inclusive legacy.
-Review by Chloe Ziegler, Grub Street poetry editor