With more than four hundred members, the Poetry Society of Virginia is one of the largest state poetry societies in the nation. It is governed by an executive committee, which includes chairpersons of standing committees, executive directors, and vice presidents from the organization’s five regions. Six yearly meetings are held, one in each region, and an Annual Poetry Festival and Meeting in Williamsburg. There are also local readings, workshops, and other events.
Originally, meetings were largely social, and programs featured presentations by prominent poets of the caliber of Gertrude Claytor and Nancy Byrd Turner. Critiquing workshops began, notably in Richmond and Lynchburg, for those interested in improving their skills, and in the 1950s, under the leadership of Roberta Cornelius, the Lynchburg Women’s Club’s Poetry Workshop and the Poetry Society of Virginia began presenting a two-day festival in Lynchburg. In 1998 the Poetry Society of Virginia moved the festival to Williamsburgm and in 2001 expanded it to a three-day affair. The festival has continued each year since then on the third weekend in May.
Increased activity, particularly an annual poetry contest, brought the Poetry Society of Virginia to the attention of more poets and other enthusiasts. The annual poetry contest has become one of the country’s more prestigious. Categories for adults and students are judged by outstanding poets and educators nationwide. The society has also published several anthologies, beginning with the two-volume collection Lyric Virginia Today. Volume I (1932) contained work by most of the society’s writing members, and Volume II (1956) included work from Harry Meacham, Ulrich Troubetzkoy, and other literary Virginians. The society published its Golden Anniversary Anthology of Poems by Member Poets in 1973 and subsequent anthologies in 1985, 1993, and 2003.
Another activity of the society is involvement with the position of Poet Laureate of Virginia. The post was established in 1936 and most of the poet laureates have been members of the society. Since 1997, the society has participated, with the governor of Virginia and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, in selecting the Poet Laureate of Virginia. A presentation in 2004 by four poet laureates—Margaret Ward Morland, Joseph Awad, Grace Simpson, and George Garrett—led to the production of a DVD and teaching guide, including readings and interviews, for schools and other organizations.
The society continues to undertake new educational programs. Its Speakers Bureau includes a Poetry in the Schools program, which provides presenters for classroom activities. The society endows the Academy of American Poets’ College Prize for Virginia colleges and universities, participates in projects with the Virginia Writers Club, and cosponsors SlamRichmond with the James River Writers organization.