Interview with Jennifer Benka of Poets.org
“I believe that poetry is one of our great art forms and that our lives can be positively transformed by taking time to read and appreciate poems.”
Whether you are looking for new poems or poetry collections, the stories behind your favorite poets, poetry writing prompts or even jobs for poets, Poets.org is the place for you. Lauding all things poetry, Poets.org is hard at work promoting the importance of this necessary and enriching genre. This organization not only provides resources and education for poets and readers alike, but they also provide a community that fosters the beauty and transformative power of the written word.
I asked Jennifer Banka, the executive director of Poets.org, some questions about her role as director, the history of Poets.org, ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, and how we can get more involved in this community.
How did Poets.org begin? What does this community do for poets?
Poets.org is a website produced by the Academy of American Poets, one of the world’s largest organizations promoting poetry. The Academy was founded in 1934 by a twenty-three-year-old woman named Marie Bullock. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression she endeavored to raise funds to award to poets and to raise the profile of poets and poetry in the United States. Today, in addition to Poets.org—which launched in 1996 as the first website devoted to poets and poetry and has tens of millions of readers visiting each year—we’re one of the largest publishers of new poems thanks to Poem-a-Day, a daily series with close to 200,000 subscribers. We also originated and organize National Poetry Month (April); have a K-12 education program; offer a robust lineup of live events, including Poetry & the Creative Mind at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall; and award more funds to poets than any other organization through the Academy of American Poets Prizes. In addition, we coordinate the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of 20+ poetry organizations working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.
As the executive director of poets.org, what does your day to day look like? What are some of your favorite aspects of this position?
I feel fortunate every day that my work life is devoted to championing other poets and poetry. I believe that poetry is one of our great art forms and that our lives can be positively transformed by taking time to read and appreciate poems.
My work day is an assemblage of meetings with the devoted and extraordinary members of our staff, Board of Directors, and Chancellors, fielding inquiries from media, responding to requests from poets and partner organizations, organizing fundraising events and public poetry readings, writing grants, chatting with our members and donors, writing remarks for public events…
But I’m not the only one who’s busy. Poetry is more in demand in the U.S. than ever before. And organizations like ours and the other members of the Poetry Coalition help meet, sustain, and grow that interest by publishing, promoting, presenting, and providing funds to poets. Poetry leaders everywhere are working hard!
What is Poets.org doing to celebrate National Poetry Month? Why do you think it is important to have a whole month dedicated to poetry?
As the organization that founded National Poetry Month, we continue to serve as the online information hub for this special celebration. On Poets.org, you can order the official National Poetry Month poster to display in your classroom, library, bookstore, or office. We also invite people to download and use the official logo, participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 18, list poetry events on our national calendar, sign-up to read a Poem-a-Day curated by U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, encourage students and young people to participate in the Dear Poet project, and explore 30 ways to celebrate poetry this month.
We work to encourage people to enrich their lives by reading poems daily and also to promote the important role that poets occupy in our culture and communities. National Poetry Month gives a special opportunity to share those messages and creates a platform which helps us introduce poetry to new readers, especially young people.
How can readers and poets get more involved with Poets.org?
Visit us! Spend some time reading poems from our curated collection. Read about poets past and present. Tell the teachers you know to sign up for Teach This Poem and our other free K-12 resources. Sign-up for Poem-a-Day. And, if you can, join us by becoming a member. Our website and all of our free programs and publications are made possible by the backing of individuals who contribute to our efforts.
Who are some of your favorite poets and why?
We are working closely with the poets who serve on our Board of Chancellors and who are guest editing our Poem-a-Day series. I’m happy to highly recommend readers check out their work, as they’re some of the most esteemed and interesting poetic voices writing today!