Special Collections Research Center

Harriet Monroe Modern Poetry Collection

History of the Modern Poetry Collection

Poetry: A Magazine of Verse was founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912. Taking Whitman's line, "To have great poets there must be great audiences too" as the motto for her magazine, Monroe sought to create an audience for modern poetry and introduce readers to new writers and ideas. By insisting on paying all contributors and establishing an annual prize, Poetry magazine raised the visibility and status of poetry. The journal published and promoted the careers of a galaxy of poets who came to define twentieth century modernism, from T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore to Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, and Langston Hughes, among many others. Poetry transformed the way that poetry and poets are recognized and read worldwide, and it continues to flourish as a major cultural influence.

In 1931, Harriet Monroe decided to present her poetry library, her personal papers, and the editorial files of Poetry magazine as a gift to the University of Chicago. Following her death in 1936, the Monroe library and Poetry archives were received as a bequest and installed in a specially designated room in Wieboldt Hall, the modern languages building on the campus of the University of Chicago. The Modern Poetry Library room provided book shelves for the poetry collection, display cases for the letters and manuscripts of notable poets in the Poetry archives, and equipment for listening to recordings of poets reading their works.

The formal opening of the Harriet Monroe Library of Modern Poetry was marked by a festive dinner of the University of Chicago Friends of the Library on May 24, 1938. Guest speakers paying tribute to Harriet Monroe's achievements included Carl Sandburg, Archibald MacLeish, Ford Maddox Ford, George Dillon, and Sterling North. Messages lauding Monroe's remarkable influence were received from many of the poets she had encouraged and promoted, including Ezra Pound, Walter De La Mare, William Rose Benet, Witter Bynner, John Gould Fletcher, Edgar Lee Masters, Lew Sarett, Jean Starr Untermeyer, and John Hall Wheelock, among others.

In addition to the gift of her library and archives, Harriet Monroe's will also provided $5,000 to establish a fund for the advancement and encouragement of poetry through the award of a $500 prize for distinction in poetry. Monroe stipulated that the committee of award for the prize should give preference to "poets of progressive rather than academic tendencies." The inaugural Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, given at the University of Chicago in June 1941, was presented to twenty-eight-year-old Muriel Rukeyser. Among those receiving the award in later years were Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Lowell.

In 1953, the Harriet Monroe Modern Poetry Library was incorporated within the newly established Department of Special Collections of the University of Chicago Library. In 2002, this department became the Special Collections Research Center. The Modern Poetry book collection, enlarged continuously on an annual basis with the support of an endowed acquisition fund, is divided between a poetry collection in the general stacks of Regenstein Library and the Modern Poetry rare books and serials in the Special Collections Research Center. The editorial archives of Poetry magazine, the personal papers of Harriet Monroe, and the papers of other modern poets and editors and publishers of poetry are held as part of the manuscript collections in the Special Collections Research Center.

Modern Poetry Rare Book Collection

In 1931, five years before the death of Harriet Monroe, University of Chicago Trustee Harold H. Swift provided an anonymous gift of $5,000 to support Poetry magazine while Monroe remained editor and to serve as an endowment for the enlargement of her book collection thereafter. At the time of its receipt by the University of Chicago Library, the books in the library of Harriet Monroe numbered 2,400 volumes.

Poets represented in the collection included major figures in the modern poetry movement such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and Marianne Moore, along with John Gould Fletcher, William Vaughn Moody, Witter Bynner, and many other authors. The library included Monroe's collection of little magazines, inscribed copies of books by authors she championed, and publications of poetry in chapbooks, broadsides, pamphlets, and other ephemeral formats. Among the important works of early modernism and first books by authors who appeared in the magazine are Samuel Beckett, Whoroscope (Paris: Hours Press, 1930); T.S. Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations (London: the Egoist, 1917); Robert Frost, A Boy's Will (London: D. Nutt, 1913); Ezra Pound, A lume spento (Venice: Published by A. Antonini ... 1908); and Dylan Thomas, 18 Poems (London: the Sunday Referee and Parton Bookshop, 1934). Friends and colleagues of Harriet Monroe such as Helen and Hi Simons and Morton D. Zabel helped to enlarge the collection by donating books from their own libraries.

The scope of the Modern Poetry book collection now encompasses poetry written in English from 1900 to to the present, with writers ranging from W. H. Auden and Rupert Brooke to William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas, and Allen Ginsburg. Canadian, African, British, Australian, and American authors are represented along with translations of foreign poets who exerted particularly strong influence on writers in English. The collection includes translations of major poets' works into Italian, French, and other languages. Literature of significant poetry movements such as the Imagists is complemented by the works of student poets, the publications of poetry societies, and finely printed editions.

At present, the Library's Modern Poetry book collection comprises well over 25,000 volumes, and the collection continues to grow by 1,000-1,200 volumes a year. Books and serials in the general and rare components of the Modern Poetry collection are accessible through the Library's online catalog.

Modern Poetry Manuscript Collection

The editorial archives of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse acquired by bequest from Harriet Monroe included extensive files of correspondence and poetry manuscripts from the time of her founding of the journal in 1912 until her death in 1936. Subsequently, the University of Chicago Library acquired two additional series of editorial files documenting Poetry and its authors during the years 1936-1953 and 1954-1961. Together, these three series of files preserve the letters and writings of a significant and remarkably diverse group of modern poets of the first half of the twentieth century. Eliot, Pound, Williams, Moore, Yeats, Sandburg, Thomas, and Frost are represented, along with Vachel Lindsay, Conrad Aiken, Wallace Stevens, Yvor Winters, Sara Teasdale, James Joyce, Edgar Lee Masters, Alfred Kreymborg, Ford Maddox Ford, Louis Zukofsky, Hart Crane, Witter Bynner, and Robert Penn Warren, among many others.

The editorial files of Poetry are amplified by collections of papers and records that document the work of individual poets and the publication of their writings. These materials include the papers of Harriet Monroe, Harriet Brainard Moody, Ronald Lane Latimer, Amy Bonner, and Morton D. Zabel, and the editorial files of Chicago Review. More recent collections documenting the writing and publishing of modern poetry continue to be added.

Manuscript materials in the Modern Poetry Collection are accessible through finding aids available in the Special Collections Research Center. Some materials within collections may be restricted; for further information on holdings, please contact the Special Collections Research Center.

Manuscript holdings are arranged in the following individual collections and series:

  • Mary Aldis. Papers.
  • Big Table Records [within Paul S. Carroll Papers]
  • Amy Bonner. Papers.
  • Noah S. Brannen. Papers.
  • Paul S. Carroll. Papers.
  • Chicago Review. Records.
  • James Vincent Cunningham. Papers.
  • William I. Elliott. Papers.
  • Thomas Fitzsimmons. Papers.
  • Free Lunch Records [within Ron C. Offen Papers}
  • Morgan Gibson. Papers.
  • Jeremy Ingalls. Papers.
  • Ronald Lane Latimer. Papers.
  • Leza Lowitz. Papers.
  • LVNG. Records.
  • Modern Poetry Miscellaneous Manuscripts.
  • Modern Poetry Photograph Collection.
  • Harriet Monroe. Personal Papers.
  • Harriet Brainard Moody. Papers.
  • Ronald C. Offen. Papers.
  • Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Records. 1912-1961.
  • David Ray. Papers.
  • SARU Press Records [within Drew M. Stroud Papers]
  • Seven Woods Press. Records.
  • Hi Simons. Papers.
  • Layle Silbert. Papers.
  • Maurine Smith. Papers.
  • Israel Solon. Papers.
  • Drew M. Stroud (Ryu Makoto). Papers.
  • University of Chicago. Library. Harriet Monroe Modern Poetry Library. Records.
  • Verse. Records.
  • Morton Dauwen Zabel. Papers.

For additional information on related manuscript holdings in the Special Collections Research Center, see the subject guide to modern manuscript and archival Poetry and Literature collections.

For further information on rare books or manuscripts in the Modern Poetry collections, please contact:

Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 E. 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637