Story last updated at 3/18/2009 - 8:56 pm
For Don Selby, a good idea was born with a glance.
In 1995, Selby was publishing law books. He had stepped into the office of colleague Diane Boller, and there on the shelf beside a book titled Liability of Corporate Officers and Directors was a very different sort of book, a collection of poems by W.S. Merwin. Selby knew Merwin's much-lauded reputation among contemporary poets but was surprised to see that another person at the decidedly nonliterary publishing firm did. It didn't take long before he and Boller were trading favorite poems. "I think the first poem Diane showed me was a Frank O'Hara, and I'm sure the one I gave her was an A.R. Ammons, who I was reading at the time," Selby said. Ammons is a North Carolinian but taught many years at Cornell.
From the exchanges, the excellent poetry Web site Poetry Daily (www.poems.com) was born.
"The law publishing business was one of the first to get involved with electronic publishing," Selby said. "We had that experience, and Diane and I knew that poetry publishers struggled to get poets their deserved audience."
The two hatched the idea of online poetry publishing that would feature a new poem every day, drawn from established print poetry journals. During business travels, they made side trips to visit such influential editors as Joseph Parisi, then editing Poetry magazine in Chicago, and Peter Davidson at the Atlantic Monthly. Everyone they talked with thought the idea was a win-win. A poem would be selected from the magazine and featured each day. The poet and the magazine would get well-deserved attention, and Poetry Daily would have its content.
So, in 1997, Poetry Daily came online, and it's been onward and upward every since. There are a number of poetry Web sites now, but I think Poetry Daily is the best in both design and concept. It's been my home page for a number of years, and it's always a treat to log on each morning and see what new poem the site will bring me. The site is my daily literary supplement, a singular tablet that can be taken first thing or returned to later.
You can read "Today's Poem," which comes from prestigious magazines such as Poetry, Paris Review, Threepenny Review, the New Republic, Southern Review and others. Some days the poem might come from one of the very fine smaller magazines that perhaps aren't known to as wide an audience but should be - journals like Field, crazyhorse and Beloit Poetry Journal. Selections are also made from recently published books from both mainstream and small literary publishers. There's a brief bio note about the writer and information about the publishing source.
"We read like crazy," Selby says. "We are getting more review copies now in addition to the literary magazines. We are looking for authentic poems, poems that aspire to serious art but we try to avoid aligning ourselves with a particular school or approach. We just want to make the general reading public aware of what's being published in poetry."
If you want to dip deeper into the poetry world, the site also features "From the Newsroom," a section that contains links to reviews and news items concerning poetry. On a recent day, there was a review from the New York Times, an announcement of the Washington State Book Awards, Mary Karr's poem selection for the Washington Post and an article about four poets and their "day jobs." In that delightful piece, Irish poet Dennis O'Driscoll notes that at Revenue and Customs he "got a life from work: a living which freed me from literary drudgery; access to a distinctive linguistic register; stimulating subject matter; and the welcome distraction a busy office provides from the obsessive anxieties which bedevil the isolated full-time poet." Not what you might expect a poet to say. Poetry Daily delivers that kind of surprise every day.
In addition to the online version, PD has published two print anthologies (full disclosure, I have poems in each) of poems drawn from the Web site.
There's a lot happening in contemporary poetry. If you're not plugged in to the world of small literary magazines and college reading series, you might not know about it. But with Poetry Daily, you can get a regular dose or just an occasional tonic. Either way, you get the real thing right at your fingertips.
Michael Chitwood's poetry, book reviews, and articles appear widely. This article originally appeared in the News & Observer. Distributed by the Poetry Foundation at www.poetryfoundation.org. © 2009 by Michael Chitwood. All rights reserved.