Our Story


Our Story

First Issue of Poet Lore
Founded in January 1889, Poet Lore is the nation’s oldest poetry journal. It has published world-famous poets and new writers side by side throughout its long history. Charlotte Porter and Helen Clarke, two progressive young Shakespeare scholars, launched Poet Lore as a forum on “Shakespeare, Browning, and the Comparative Study of Literature” but soon sought out the original work of living writers.

Early issues of the magazine featured poetry by such luminaries as Rabindranath Tagore, Frederic Mistral, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Verlaine. Poems by Sara Teasdale, Emma Lazarus, and many other women poets appeared in Poet Lore’s pages, including work by Harriet Monroe, who went on to establish Poetry magazine in 1912.

Porter and Clarke, who were life partners as well as co-editors, founded Poet Lore in Philadelphia but two years later moved to Boston, where the journal remained until 1976, when it was purchased by Heldref Publications in Washington, DC. For the past 25 years, Poet Lore has been a publication of The Writer’s Center, an independent literary non-profit in Bethesda, Maryland.

Many renowned contemporary American poets published their early work (sometimes their very first poems) in Poet Lore—Kim Addonizio, David Baker, John Balaban, Carolyn Forché, Alice Fulton, Dana Gioia, Sharon Olds, Carl Phillips, R.T. Smith,  and Mary Oliver among them.

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Five Discoveries about Poet Lore

1 Walt Whitman was a subscriber who developed a special kinship with Poet Lore, corresponding with its editors and writing parting words to them upon their move from Philadelphia to Boston. He placed ads for Leaves of Grass in three successive issues in 1892, and Poet Lore included the proceedings of his funeral in its pages later that year.
2 In the November 1892 issue, editor Charlotte Porter characterized Emily Dickinson, whose work was widely misread at the time, as having “the quality of the bloodroot, delicate, passionate, but with a sting which sends the reader wiser away.” She described the poems as “terse aphoristic utterances, where truth is nested in subtle suggestion.”
3 When other publications lauded Paul Dunbar for a narrow subset of his work, Poet Lore‘s editors understood his wider significance: in an 1897 issue, they called him the “spirit of the present.” As Loyola University scholar Melissa Girard has written, Poet Lore didn’t shy away from foundational debates regarding race and modern poetry.
4 In its early decades, Poet Lore provided a forum for world theatre, showcasing entire plays—in translation—of such dramatists as Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, José Echegaray, and Anton Chekhov at a time when many American readers had never heard their names.
5 Poets Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller have edited Poet Lore since 2002, reading close to 1,000 poems each month without regard to reputation. This openness to new voices has led to their discovery of a number of exceptional younger poets, including NAACP award-winning poet and memoirist Reginald Dwayne Betts, whose first poem they published in 2004 while he was in prison.
Poet Lore does what poetry journals are supposed to do: it gives new voices a place to sing and old voices a place to harmonize.
—A.B. Spellman, poet, music critic, and founding member of the Black Arts Movement