Thursday, January 24, 2013

Poetry Foundation Appoints Robert Polito New President

Poet, Professor Will Lead Organization Dedicated to Strengthening Poetry’s Role in American Culture.

CHICAGO—The board of the Poetry Foundation has voted unanimously to appoint Robert Polito the next president of the organization. He will begin his tenure on July 8, 2013. Until that time, inaugural president John Barr, who announced his retirement early in 2012, will continue as president and will aid in the transition.

A highly respected poet, critic, and biographer, Polito has served since 1992 as director of Creative Writing at The New School, where he founded the MFA Program in Creative Writing and (with Len and Louise Riggio) the Riggio Honors Program: Writing and Democracy.

Born in Boston in 1951, he earned a doctorate in English and American language and literature from Harvard University.

Polito’s poetry, which blends lyric, collage, and narrative impulses and draws on both American pop culture and literary tradition, has been collected in two books, Hollywood & God (2009) and Doubles (1995). His scholarly works include A Reader’s Guide to James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover (1995) and Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson (1996), for which he received a National Book Critics Circle Award. Polito’s interest in crime novels and film noir has served him as editor of several books on cinema, poetry, and popular culture of the American midcentury. He has written about Manny Farber’s paintings, the music of the Kinks, Andy Warhol and Andrew Marvell, Bob Dylan, the Pogues, Orson Welles, Elizabeth Bishop, Jean Vigo, and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, among many other subjects.

The recipient of numerous honors and awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, Polito is a contributing editor to BOMB and the Boston Review. His poetry, essays, and criticism have been published widely, including in the Best American Poetry, Best American Essays, and Best American Movie Writing annual anthologies.

“Robert Polito is the right leader for the next chapter of the Poetry Foundation,” said Poetry Foundation board chairman John Kenney. “He is an accomplished poet, writer, and teacher. And he will bring to the job broad experience and a creative energy that will move the organization in new directions while remaining true to the legacy of Poetry magazine and the mission of the Poetry Foundation. I am delighted that Robert is joining the Foundation and look forward to working with him.”

Others in the poetry community echoed Kenney’s sentiments.

“Robert Polito is an inspired choice to lead the Poetry Foundation,” said Tom Healy, poet and chairman of the Fulbright scholarship program. Tom Sleigh, director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Hunter College, City University of New York, agreed. “He will bring to the job the same qualities of heart and mind that he brings to his writing and his life: intelligence, subtlety, and complexity of feeling.” Frank Bidart called Polito “one of the most talented and gifted thinkers about poetry that I know.”

“His work has always been on the cutting edge between public and private—between the institutions and traditions that allow art not only to exist but to flourish, and the fate of the single generating anarchic soul working inside them,” Bidart said.

Polito’s colleagues at The New School also had high praise. “His leadership has been visionary, and in his new role, he is poised to bring that energy of invention to the entire poetry community,” said Honor Moore, who has taught with Polito for more than a decade.

Established following a stunning 2002 gift to Poetry magazine by philanthropist Ruth Lilly, the Poetry Foundation has used its nearly $200 million endowment to support the magazine and for the long-term benefit of poetry in general. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to increasing the art form’s presence in American culture by bringing poetry of the highest quality to the largest possible audience.

“We live at a lucky moment for poetry, when there are so many surprising poets across generations, cultures, and styles—and this situation is one of the powerful legacies of Poetry, the magazine Harriet Monroe proposed a little over a century ago,” said Polito. “I’m grateful to the Poetry Foundation for the chance to join their tradition of innovation and change—at once touchstone, template, and aspiration for the century ahead.”

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