Recently the Poetry Society of America launched its Centennial year with a widely praised exhibit, "Portraits of Poets, 1910-2010." There were more than 150 images of poets—oil paintings, drawings, photographs, even two stone frescoes—spanning the hundred years of the organization's history. It was thrilling to represent the glory and the range of our poetry in the 20th century and beyond, and we were especially proud of the images of African American poets we included.
The exhibit featured a beautiful oil painting of Langston Hughes, a Carl Van Vechten portrait of Countee Cullen (awarded the PSA's Witter Bynner Undergraduate Award in 1925, a year before Hughes was), amazing photographic portraits of Gwendolyn Brooks (1975 PSA Shelley Memorial Award winner and 1989 PSA Frost Medalist), Robert Hayden, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez (2001 Frost Medalist), Alice Walker, Yusef Komunyakaa (2004 Shelley Memorial Award winner), Ed Roberson (2007 Shelley Memorial Award winner), Bob Kaufman, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Michael Harper (2008 Frost Medalist), Ai, Lucille Clifton (2010 Centennial Frost Medalist), Nikky Finney, and Terrance Hayes, as well as a splendid picture of Rita Dove dancing in her studio.
A corner of the show, very much a "work in progress" up to the minute of the opening (and comprising one panel of sixteen) was devoted to portraits of poets in childhood. That segment was endearing but too limited. We reached out to many poets for images of themselves in childhood and as the day of the opening approached put up those we had received. These formed the basis for a website feature called "When They Were Young."
We intend to keep on with this feature and try to bring this portion of the exhibit into a more natural and just alignment with the exhibit as a whole. Please stay tuned.