Carroll Terrell had some nerve.
In 1971, the English professor known for his renegade ways founded an organization dedicated solely to Ezra Pound scholarship. Terrell, like Pound’s poetry, was notoriously difficult. He had the audacity to call his upstart the National Poetry Foundation.
It didn’t matter that nobody cared about Pound at the time. It didn’t matter that Terrell scheduled world-renowned poets and scholars to speak at his conferences without asking them first. They came anyway. In droves. And Terrell’s elaborate bluff became a reality. NPF grew into its name. It was inevitable.
Concurrently in the English Department, professor and poet Burton Hatlen was leading writers’ workshops with faculty and students. Poet Constance Hunting started Puckerbrush Press in Orono and later joined the English faculty. By the late 1980s, the UMaine English Department introduced a concentration in creative writing — one of the few such programs in the country to incorporate poetics.
For decades, the University of Maine’s dedication to nonmainstream poetry has attracted the minds of the ages — faculty poets and authors, generations of students, and such literary giants as Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Margaret Avison and May Sarton.
Through the years, NPF published volumes of poetry and organized “decades” conferences that attracted poets of international stature. The foundation also grew to embrace other American Modernist poets, including William Carlos Williams, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and Louis Zukofsky, as well as the Objectivists, Language poets and others.
“This was a generation of U.S. poets arguably equivalent to the English Renaissance, and NPF had a lot to do both with creating that canon and compensating, when necessary, for what was one-sided or unduly restricted about it as the years unfolded,” says UMaine Associate Professor of English Steve Evans.
Though NPF’s original stewards have all passed away in the past six years, their legacy lives on in the critical and creative work of Evans, Carla Billitteri, Benjamin Friedlander and Jennifer Moxley, who represent the foundation’s next generation. The four have continued its tradition of championing the experimental and the avant-garde, and they’re poised to make their own mark.