A History of Poetry Northwest
Poetry Northwest was founded as a quarterly journal in June, 1959 by Errol Pritchard, with Carolyn Kizer, Richard Hugo, and Nelson Bentley as co-editors. The first issue was 28 pages, featured a cover image by painter Mark Tobey, and included the work of Philip Larkin, James Wright, and William Stafford. The journal published poetry only (no reviews or other commentary) from this first issue in 1959 until 2002.
Poetry Northwest soon gained an international reputation for publishing the best in contemporary poetry by established and emerging poets in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and beyond, including such notables and award winners as Stanley Kunitz, Thom Gunn, Phillip Larkin, May Swenson, Theodore Roethke, Hayden Carruth, W.S. Merwin, John Berryman, Czeslaw Milosz, Philip Levine, and Anne Sexton.
In 1963, Poetry Northwest became a publication of the University of Washington. In 1964, Carolyn Kizer became the sole editor of the magazine, and held that post until 1966, when she resigned to become the Literature Director at the National Endowment for the Arts. David Wagoner then assumed the role of editor, a position he held for 36 years.
During Wagoner’s tenure, the magazine continued to publish established poets alongside new and emerging writers. Writers such as Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Dillard, Raymond Carver, James Welch, Ted Kooser, James Dickey, Robert Pinsky, Richard Wilbur, Wendell Berry, Charles Baxter, Mary Oliver, Edward Hirsch, Stanley Plumly, Linda Pastan, Robert Wrigley, Stephen Dunn, Jorie Graham, Michael Harper, and Mark Strand were among the major contributors to its poetry-only pages.
In 2002, after several years of dire financial circumstances, Poetry Northwest — at the time one of the longest-running poetry-only publications in the country — temporarily ceased publication.
In August 2005, the University of Washington appointed David Biespiel the new editor of Poetry Northwest, with an agreement that the editorial offices of the magazine would relocate to the Attic Writers’ Workshop (now The Attic Institute) in Portland, Oregon. The new series resumed publication in March 2006, in a larger, trade magazine format, appearing semi-annually in spring and fall as a print edition, which now included visual arts, reviews, and commentary about a variety of arts-related topics, insofar as they pertained to the role of poetry in civic life. The website launched at this time, with new poetry and commentary as well as featured highlights from the print edition. The magazine was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in March 2007. Circulation quickly rebounded, surpassing pre-2000 levels as dedicated readers rediscovered and celebrated the return of an old favorite, and new readers embraced the innovative format.
In January 2010, the Board of Directors appointed Kevin Craft the fifth editor of Poetry Northwest. Craft returned the editorial offices to the greater Seattle area, reaching an agreement with Everett Community College to house and publish to magazine at Everett, where it plays an integral role in EvCC’s Written Arts AFA Program. Even so, Poetry Northwest remains an independent, autonomous nonprofit organization fully dependent on subscriber and community support.
The mission of Poetry Northwest is to publish the best in contemporary poetry, exploring the intersection of poetry and the other arts and sciences, to enhance the role poetry plays in enriching public discourse and maintaining a purposeful quality of life. As the region’s oldest literary magazine, we serve as a recognized forum where local, regional, and national writers, artists, and audiences intersect. Our founding editor Carolyn Kizer placed a special emphasis on encouraging the “raw, emerging talents, the neglected and overlooked,” and we continue to see ourselves as a gateway into the profession, remaining insistently open to young and emerging writers, offering them a wide and thoughtful audience by producing a high quality magazine with international scope and reach.