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, predominantly public and school libraries. However, posters are also placed in restaurants, bookstores, coffee houses, and other businesses. Since 2000, poems by over 50 poets have appeared on the poster series.
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.
Each spring, Penn State’s University Libraries host a reading celebrating the next year of the Public Poetry Project’s poster series. Poets featured on the year’s posters come to Pattee Library’s Foster Auditorium and read their work, sign books, and take questions from attendees at the reading.
The Public Poetry Project is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book with support from the University Libraries, the Department of English in the College of the Liberal Arts, and William Brockman, the Paterno Family Librarian for Literature.