By ROBIN POGREBIN writing in The New York Times, September 24, 2009
WERE Walt Whitman still haunting the cobblestone streets of Lower Manhattan — “If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles,” he wrote — he might be surprised to find, in this fast-moving Internet age, a tranquil new place devoted to reading and hearing verse.
The new Poets House building in Lower Manhattan near the Hudson.
For nearly 25 years Poets House has been an anchor for poets and poetry lovers. It lodged first in a home-economics room at the High School for the Humanities in Chelsea before settling in on the second floor of a loft building at 72 Spring Street in SoHo. On Friday, Poets House opens its spacious new home in Battery Park City hard by the Hudson River at the corner of Murray Street.
“The goal of the place is to make everyone feel that poetry belongs to them,” said Lee Briccetti, who has been executive director for 20 years. “Anyone can come and experience poetry in a new way that will deepen their relationship to language.”
In its new location Poets House has a rent-free lease through 2069 from the Battery Park City Authority. Poets House raised the money for construction of the interior, $11 million, from public and private sources, including $3.5 million from the city.
“There has been an upswing in the appetite for poetry,” said Kate D. Levin, New York City’s cultural affairs commissioner. With the advent of poetry slams and spoken-word events, she added, poetry has “moved away from an association with a rarefied crowd to a more populist world and the Poets House folks are tapped into that.” Poets House is among the first cultural organizations to open downtown since 9/11.
“It’s part of an effort to make Lower Manhattan an arts community,” said David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Mr. Emil brought Poets House programming downtown years ago in his former role as president of the Battery Park City Authority.
“It gives us an anchor in the creative arts,” said Warrie Price, the founder and president of the Battery Conservancy. “Melville lived here, Eugene O’Neill — our landscape has hosted great writers. To have Poets House create a center is in a sense going back to that history.”