Harriet Monroe’s Contribution to American Poetry

Harriet Monroe

When one begins naming the most influential people in modern English poetry, Harriet Monroe is a name that simply cannot be overlooked nor underestimated. Most well-known as the founder and editor of “Poetry, a Magazine of Verse,” Ms. Monroe was largely responsible for the evolution of poetry in the twentieth century.

Born in Chicago, IL in December 1860, Monroe revealed in her autobiography that she grew up a lonely child, finding solace and comfort in the poetry books of her father, an attorney in the Windy City. She graduated from the academy of Visitation Convent in Washington, D.C. in 1879 and embarked on a writing career that would include work as an art and drama critic and an author of verse and plays.

Miss Monroe founded the “Poetry” magazine with the help of a number of investors, as a means of developing and encouraging poetry from both established and new authors alike. Some of the now more well-known authors she introduced to the world include Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Edna St. Millay and through her collaboration with Ezra Pound, she introduced Americans to him and a slew of poets from across the Atlantic, including T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. Undeniably, she played a huge role in influencing the public to accept and grow to love the modernist style just beginning to make its way into English poetry.

More than just a publisher and editor, Monroe also was a mentor to the poets she took under her wing. She regularly corresponded with them and supported them whenever she could. Harriet Monroe’s willingness to take a risk with poets of all kinds, opened the door for many who would not have had the opportunity to publish elsewhere. Through “Poetry” magazine, authors now had an income generating medium that allowed them to continue employing their writing skills for a mass audience.

One such example is Alfred Joyce Kilmer, who was viewed as too traditional to the point of being archaic. Monroe ignored the critics and published him in 1913 anyway, launching the literary career of one of America’s most beloved poets.

Harriet Monroe wrote plays and poetry herself, although her works were never considered much more than mediocre. Nevertheless, the indelible mark she left on modern poetry can never be washed away. She taught the literary world that poetry is not confined by static rules and the norms of the day. Rather, it is an expression of the human heart and mind in whatever form that may be.

When Monroe died in Peru in 1936, Ezra Pound wrote “”No one in our time or in any time has ever served the cause of an art with greater devotion, patience, and unflagging kindness.”

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