The American Poets' Corner at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine


New York



The American Poets' Corner was created in 1984 to memorialize American writers of the highest repute. It is housed in the extraordinary confines of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City and modeled after a similar alcove for writers at Westminster Abbey in London. The Corner, located in the cathedral’s Arts Bay, is made up of stone slabs, both on the wall and on the floor, each bearing the writer’s name, dates of birth and death, and a memorable quotation from the writer's work. For Hart Crane, his words "Permit me voyage, love, into your hands" were chosen, and Edna St. Vincent Millay is remembered with "Take up the song; forget the epitaph."

To date, over thirty writers have been inducted. Before 2000, the cathedral’s board of electors chose two new writers each year (one poet, one novelist) but have since limited election to one writer a year, alternating between poet and novelist. Those thus far commemorated in the Poets Corner include Walt Whitman, Washington Irving, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Frost, Willa CatherLangston Hughes, and Gertrude Stein.

Similar to debates surrounding other prestigious prizes and honors, the Poets Corner has prompted questions of whether inductees should be chosen solely on the merit of their work, or if their character should be considered as well. In 1999, the task of nominating new inductees created an uproar among the electors, cathedral patrons, and the dean of St. John the Divine. Many were outraged by the notion of placing Ezra Pound in the Corner, a poet well-known for his anti-Semitic leanings. The stir between supporters and detractors ended in Pound’s exclusion from the Poets Corner.

The Poets Corner is not the only place where poetry can be found in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. In 1976, poet Muriel Rukeyser founded The Poetry Wall in the ambulatory of the Cathedral as a place where poems will always be accepted. Rukeyser explained "the whole idea is openness, a free giving and accepting of poetry. Poets meet so many rejections in their work. This is the place where poems will always be accepted. They can be signed or unsigned and in all languages."