The Chicago-based Poetry Foundation has chosen Robert Polito, founder and director of the New School's graduate writing program, to succeed John Barr as the organization's president. Congratulations to the Poetry Foundation on an inspired choice. With Poilito at the helm, the foundation will be in the capable hands of one who has proved his skill and inventiveness in designing and administering programs across the arts. Many poets write in more genres than one, but Polito goes farther than most: he writes sophisticated criticism in several literary genres and in film studies; he has proved his mettle as an editor and anthologist of crime fiction and is acknowledged as one of our foremost experts on film noir. But what distinguishes Polito is that beyond his work as a poet, writer, and editor, he has the vision and energy to create ambitious structures, programs, and events even when working with limited resources. He has an abundance of ideas and we will await with great interest what exciting things are in the cards for the Poetry Foundation, recipients of a famous twelve-figure bequest from the heiress of the Lilly pharmaceutical fortune. (The amount has been calculated as in the "one-hundred-million to two-hundred-million dollar range.") Robert will officially begin his duties there right after the 4th of July holiday weekend.
Robert and I go back to 1987. His long essay in the August 1987 issue of Boston Review was the first extended discussion of my work as a poet and editor. At the time, Robert was teaching at Wellesley College, and he brought me to the campus to give a poetry reading. We became friends and then colleagues when he moved from Boston to New York City and re-invented his career. He had the idea for a graduate writing program at the New School, developed it, refined it, enlisted all the institutional and intellectual support needed -- and we launched in 1996. We have served together at the New School ever since, collaborating on exciting literary projects -- such as the John Ashbery Festival we held in April 2006 or, more recently, the project of involving our faculty and students in the digital mapping of Ashbery's "creative spaces" and in scholarly work springing from access to Ashbery's archives. Since 2004, the Best American Poetry has held its annual launch at the New School each fall. It has become an important event in the New York poetry calendar, and it is merely one of many important things that would not have happened without the advocacy and support of Robert Polito. -- DL