Daily Archives: February 23, 2009

Not Chickens, Poetry!

If you had attended Pittsburgh’s first International Poetry Forum event, you might have worn your fashionable miniskirt, parked your new $27oo Buick, and entered Carnegie Lecture Hall humming “The Sound of Silence” or the theme from Dr. Zhivago. It was October 19, 1966, and you would have been part of a standing-room-only audience about to listen to a reading by Archibald MacLeish. 

The “Poetry Center” was founded in April, 1966, by the trustees of the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, through an initial five year grant to Carnegie Library. Out of the “Poetry Center” was born the International Poetry Forum (IPF), one of a handful of independent poetry reading subscription series in the country. 

In 1986, to celebrate its twentieth year, the International Poetry Forum published A Retrospective, detailing the forum’s improbable beginnings. From page one: “It seemed an unlikely proposition at best. At worst, a folly . . . an organization that would bring poets and writers from all over the world to read their works to Pittsburghers. . . . Even the telephone operator could not believe her ears, and the first listing appeared as The International Poultry Farm!”

Last week’s announcement that the International Poetry Forum will cease after this season breaks many hearts. At his February 11 forum reading, Dr. Samuel Hazo, the 80-year-old founding director, cited loss of support from stock income and foundations, and the forum’s inability to find a replacement director, as twin reasons for its demise.

The forum’s legacy will live in memory, as well as in its published histories and archives. According to an article in the February 13th Post-Gazette, “Literary arts patron Drue Heinz funded an upgrade of the forum’s Web site. Dr. Hazo said the site would continue to be upgraded as it expands its audio archive of poetry readings.” The IPF archives reside at Carlow University, ” . . . a renowned virtual history of American and international poetry. Comprising more than thirty years of tapes of live readings from practicing poets, along with supporting materials, IPF resources are available for scholarly study from their home on the fifth floor of Grace Library.”

IPF brought more than 800 poets, writers, and performers to Pittsburgh. The Retrospective includes a list of every writer who read during IPF’s first twenty years. It’s an amazing who’s who. What poetry fan would not have been thrilled to hear, among others . . . 




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