Poems for the People

The world of verse has been roiled by an enormous gift. But can mere money revive a dying art?

James Kegley

Champion students representing all 51 states, stand on stage at the Poetry Out Loud Competition at George Washington University in D.C., May of 2007.

In 1876 an American Civil War veteran named Eli Lilly founded a pharmaceutical company. He did pretty well for himself: you can thank Eli Lilly & Co. for, among other things, methadone, Cialis and Prozac. But Lilly's reclusive great-granddaughter Ruth is apparently more interested in poems than in Prozac. In 2001, when she decided to give away part of her fortune in charitable donations, she singled out a venerable but impoverished little literary magazine called Poetry. Her gift came to around $200 million.

Money and poetry rarely have much to do with each other, especially in such a stunningly large quantity....

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