Ruth Lilly, the 87-year-old, ailing, billionaire heiress, the last surviving great-grandchild of the founder of Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, plans to donate more than $100,000,000 to Editor Joe Parisi's Poetry Magazine--no strings attached.
Nope, that's not a Letter eX typo, folks, we're talking one-hundred-million smackeroos, to be divvied out at a rate of millions per year, to a well known but small and (up until now) financially strapped, four person publication, which is presently published out of a cramped space in a library, the same poetry magazine which sent hand written notes rejecting the poetry of Ruth Lilly for over thirty years.
Editor Joe Parisi says Lilly's poetry is "good," but did not "meet the standards" of the monthly which is known for publishing such poets as William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas. However, "Ruth Lilly has ensured our existence into perpetuity," Parisi also said. Lilly's lawyer says she doesn't take rejection personally, and that she is a loyal fan of Chicago's "Poetry Magazine."
The magazine's publisher says the money will be used to increase educational programs, expand grants and fellowships and devise seminars for teachers.
For more about what Ruth Lilly has done to help the cause of poetry in Chicago, Click Here. (Photo of Ruth Lilly thanks to Associated Press.)
The Poetry Foundation of Chicago, a major benefactor of the Ruth Lilly billion dollar estate, is demanding that a jury decide whether National City Bank of Indiana should be held responsible for mismanaging a trust fund which has gone down in value 35 percent in one year, costing the poetry organization an estimated $50 million. The Poetry Foundation claims the bank failed to properly administer the trust and that they should have immediately diversified the trust by selling the millions of shares of Eli Lilly and Company stock that were used to fund it. The Poetry Foundation alleges the bank failed to spread the risk and held on almost exclusively to Lilly stock as its value sank. When the trust was created, Lilly stock was selling for about $75 a share. But when the bank finally sold it in the fall of 2002, the price was about $48 a share. For more than 20 years, Ruth Lilly (the 87 year old great-granddaughter of Eli Lilly, heiress to the Lilly pharmaceutical fortune) has been under a court-ordered guardianship, incapable of managing her own financial affairs. The court-appointed guardian (National City Bank, then called Merchants National Bank) has managed Lilly's estimated $1 billion estate since 1981. This is not the first time the bank's handling of Lilly's money has been at issue. In 1998, there were allegations of questionable spending practices, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars used for political contributions as well as lavish trips for huge entourages of Lilly's employees and their families. These allegations prompted an independent review by the court. National City made a public admission of lax oversight in the case and agreed to forego half a million dollars in management fees. Since then, Lilly's estate has reportedly paid National City Bank and its lawyers more than $300,000 in management fees just to cover the first six months of 2002. However well paid, the bank still claims it is not negligent in the Poetry Foundation case.
A Wall Street dynamo and the author of book-length poems, who has never been published in Poetry Magazine, has been selected for the position of President of the newly formed Poetry Foundation. John W. Barr of New York City will use his expertise to help manage the estimated $50,000,000 to $100,000,000, which was given by pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lily to what was then known as the Modern Poetry Association.
John Barr, 61, who is the well-known investment banker who founded the firm SG Barr Devlin, has thirty years of experience handling mergers and acquisitions, some of them exceeding the billion-dollar level. He was the managing director at Morgan Stanley and helped found Dynegy Inc., a high-flier in energy trading, which fell from grace after his depature. He also was a founder and Chairman of the Natural Gas Clearinghouse, the country's largest natural gas marketer, and was hired by Enron to sell Portland General, their utility in Oregon
Somehow, amidst his high stakes dealings, Barr has found the time to pursue a double life: he's also a poet. He serves as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Bennington College, is a President of the Poetry Society of America, and is a Director of Yaddo, the country's oldest artist's colony. Mr. Barr received his B.A. with honors from Harvard University in 1965, served in the United States Navy until 1970, and returned to Harvard Graduate School to earn his M.B.A. in 1971. Barr has also taught a graduate writing course at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
Although Barr began writing poetry while attending high school in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, poetry only became truly important to him while he was fighting in the Vietnam War. Barr published his work in small press magazines until 1989, and then he began publishing books. During the next decade he published six of them, including three fine press editions which were combined in 1997 into a trade press edition called "The Hundred Fathom Curve", published by Story Line Press. His most recent work is "Grace: An Epic Poem" published in 1999, which is based on the monologues of (and written in the dialect of) Ibn Opcit, a Caribbean gardener.
Some literary cirlces view Barr as part of a long tradition of "poet-businessmen," such as T.S. Eliot, who was an international banker, or Wallace Stevens, who was an insurance executive.
The search for a new President for the Poetry Foundation began in July of 2003 and attracted about 200 applicants. Proposals for using the Lily money were put on hold, as the selection process for a new President took place.
John Barr hopes to move to Chicago and begin full-time work with the Poetry Foundation by March.
--Story by C. J. Laity
According to an article by Chicago Tribune staff reporter Raoul Mowatt, which was forwarded to us by Ken Clarke, Joseph Parisi, who is presently on the review committee in search of a new poet laureate for the state of Illinois, has completely resigned from all involvement with Poetry Magazine.
Parisi worked with Poetry Magazine for 27 years (since 1976) and was the editor in chief for 20 years. Among other things, he has been credited with increasing the magazine's circulation to 12,000.
Two months ago, after an unprecedented gift of $100,000,000 turned the Modern Poetry Association (the publisher of Poetry Magazine) into the Poetry Foundation, Parisi began his new post as "executive director of publications and programs."
The Foundation almost immediately became involved in a lawsuit, which charges that the bank handling the Ruth Lilly fortune mismanaged her giant gift to Poetry Magazine. It is unclear if this lawsuit had anything to do with Parisi's decision.
Parisi resigned on August 8, citing a desire to pursue his own writing.
Though he will be available to consult with the Poetry Foundation, Parisi plans to spend most of his time working on a second volume of the history of Poetry Magazine.
Here's to all the hard work Joseph Parisi has done in the name of poetry.
Note: Ruth Lilly gives Poetry Magazine a fortune.