A Poetic Dream / Lauren Perlaki

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In an interview with the Paris Review, Stanley Kunitz said, “I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.” 

In 1985, Kunitz and Elizabeth Kray founded Poets House—a library and meeting place dedicated to providing a comfortable and accessible atmosphere for studying, reading, and composing poetry. Kunitz explained he dubbed the establishment “Poets House” because ‘House’ is much bigger than any institution. The reason there is not an apostrophe in Poets House?  Some things are not meant to be possessed, but shared.

At Poets House, with bookcases stocked full of poetry for the public to read, handle, and enjoy, one is able to experience the nature of Stanley Kunitz’s beautiful beliefs on sharing.  Born in a high school economics classroom with a 600-volume library, from 1990-2008, Poets House resided in a Soho loft, where the organization continued to grow, thrive, and establish its reputation for great and original programming. 

Through the years, rent made a slow ascension, and by the early 2000s, Poets House had to evaluating their options. Fortunately, the Battery Park City Authority designated Poets House to be one of three non-profit rent-free tenants in a new residential building. 

The Battery Park City location is twice as large as the old. The previous Soho loft had just one room, where the new location offers library space, an auditorium, a conference room, a children’s space, and office space for staff members. 

Once a humble 600-volume collection, the library now boasts over 50,000 volumes of poetry and poetry related texts. It is one of the largest and most comprehensive independent poetry collection made available to the public in open stacks.

Asking regulars about their thoughts on Poets House, “Eden” was a common term used to describe the space. From my time working at Poets House, I can say that it is the first and only place I have found in the entire city of New York that can be absolutely silent. On top of the silence factor, a major factor, practically everyone I have encountered in the space is kind and respectful. I was downstairs on the lower level sitting at the reference desk one particularly bleak winter afternoon when a library visitor descended the stairs and approached me. “Everyone is so nice here! And so considerate! Very refreshing to experience. It’s my first time here, and I will definitely be back.” An elderly regular I know by the name of Pat said to me, “I just love it here. It’s such wonderful place to get away to. I want to tell everyone about it, but at the same time I don’t because I want it to remain my special little place!” 

In this moment, I am sitting on the second level of Poets House staring out at the chunks of ice floating along the Hudson, and Lady Liberty extending her arm with torch in hand up into the quickly approaching gloaming. All around me, Stanley Kunitz’s dream of an ever-transparent art is very clearly reflected in the architecture of the building. The library is filled with windows, and lit mostly with natural light until sunset. “An art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.” From the perspective of an intern and a patron, I can confirm that dream has been fulfilled.


Lauren Perlaki is a sophomore at Kalamazoo College. She is majoring in English and minoring in Art History.