It may be hard to believe, but receiving a $100 million windfall can be a "mixed blessing," according to Joseph Parisi, longtime editor of Poetry magazine, the recent beneficiary of such a donation from loyal and wealthy patron Ruth Lilly. Last month, the heiress to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune, amateur poet, Poetry patron and subscriber, donated that amount to the magazine.
"It's been a media frenzy," Parisi said, along with a steady stream of "unsolicited faxes from money managers and real estate people. But money will not increase the quality of poetry." Parisi said the money has brought plenty of nonliterary worries. "No one even knows exactly what the total amount will be," he said. "There are taxes. The plan is complicated and depends on stock market investments." The money will be delivered to Poetry in installments over 30 years, and the total is tied to the value of Eli Lilly's stock.
In the meantime, said Parisi, the magazine is running on "the same meager budget," but with vastly increased expectations from the public and from its vendors. "We had free offices; now I have to rent space," he said. "We had grants that have been suddenly cut off and now we need more staff." Founded in 1912 by Harriet Moore, Poetry was among the first to publish many of the most acclaimed poets of the century, among them T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Marianne Moore.
Parisi was vague on his plans for the endowment. "We're interested in the written word and we do education," Parisi said. "Time Warner need not worry about us. We'll take risks. We were the first to publish Eliot. A third of the writers in Poetry are first-time published authors."
The magazine, which has a circulation of about 10,000, currently pays $2 per line for the poems it publishes and has a budget of about $600,000 from its parent organization, the Modern Poetry Association. It also publishes a few books through its book publishing arm Poetry Press, including The Poetry Index 1912—1997, a complete listing of every article, review and poem published in the magazine, as well as The Poets in Person Listening Guide by Joseph Parisi, a companion to Poets in Person, an audio collection of cassette tapes featuring interviews with and readings by 13 prominent poets. Parisi said he eventually "hopes to do an outstanding series of books by younger authors." As for his other plans, he seemed to have only one simple wish—to return to the reason he became involved with the magazine in the first place. "If only the lawyers would leave me alone, I could edit a little poetry," he quipped.