Started in 1999 by the late Kim Fisher, the first Paterno Family Librarian for Literature, Penn State’s Public Poetry Project seeks to make poetry more available in the daily lives of Pennsylvanians by placing poems in public places. As Russian-American poet, Josephy Brodsky, stated, [make poetry] "as ubiquitous as the nature that surrounds us ... or as ubiquitous as gas stations, if not as cars themselves" and "is the only insurance against the vulgarity of the human heart. Therefore it should be available to everyone in this country, and at a low cost."
The project produces posters that are sent to locations throughout the Commonwealth, including public and school libraries, bookstores, coffee houses, and other businesses. Since 2000, poems by over 80 poets have appeared on the poster series, and over 100,000 poem posters have been distributed.
Poems are chosen by a committee composed of poets who have had work appear previously in the series. The committee is charged, year-to-year, with finding poems by poets with a connection to Pennsylvania—either by birth or a long period of residency. Other than that criterion, there are no other restrictions put on the committee. The resulting series reveals much about Pennsylvania as a place, but it reveals, also, just as much about the work and expansive qualities of poetry.
The Public Poetry Project at Penn State is sponsored by the University Libraries and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.