West Chester University Poetry Conference

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West Chester University Poetry Conference
GenreFormalist poetic craft conference
Location(s)West Chester University,
West Chester, PA 19383,
United States
InauguratedJune 1995, West Chester, PA
Most recentTuesday, June 4–8, 2024
Next eventTuesday, June 3–7, 2025
Participants300 poets and poetry scholars
WebsiteWCU Poetry Conference

Michael Peich

Dana Gioia

The West Chester University Poetry Conference is an international poetry conference that has been held annually since 1995 at West Chester University, Pennsylvania, United States. It hosts various panel discussions and poetry craft workshops, which focus primarily on formal poetry, narrative poetry, New Formalism[1] and Expansive Poetry. It is the largest poetry-only conference in America[2] and possibly the world[3] as well as the only conference which focuses on traditional craft.[2]


The conference was founded in 1995 by West Chester professor Michael Peich and poet Dana Gioia with 85 poets and scholars in attendance.[4] The original core faculty members included Annie Finch, R. S. Gwynn, Mark Jarman, Robert McDowell, and Timothy Steele. While some of these faculty still return regularly to teach, the faculty has expanded in recent years to include Kim Addonizio, Rhina Espaillat, B. H. Fairchild, Rachel Hadas, Molly Peacock, Mary Jo Salter, A. E. Stallings, and many other widely published New Formalists.

Starting in 1999, the conference's program began including an art song concert.[4]

In 2003, Gioia stepped down as co-director of the conference in order to become chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The 2010 conference was the 16th and last year with Peich as director before he retired and passed the position to Kim Bridgford.[2][5] By this time, the conference attendance had increased to 300 poets and poetry scholars.[4] That year's concert of art song featured Natalie Merchant, who sung the poetry of various poets of the past.[4] On June 12, the last day of the conference, the Queen's Birthday Honours 2010 were announced, including British comic poet Wendy Cope's appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.[6][7]

R. S. Gwynn was named Program Director in September, 2015. His innovations included the initiation of a "Great Debates" series, the first of which, "Poetry or Verse?" was conducted by the poets James Matthew Wilson and Robert Archambeau.

2020 saw no conference.

Awards given[edit]

Books that have won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize display this logo on the cover

Every year, the WCU Poetry Conference gives out three Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards, the most notable one being the nationally-competitive Donald Justice Poetry Prize. The other two were given to recognize local regional undergraduate work in the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania until 2012, when they were expanded to become nationally-competitive prizes.

Keynote speakers[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Thompson, Nigel S. "Letter from West Chester." The Times Literary Supplement. September 1999.
  2. ^ a b c Timpane, John "Conference draws poets not for reading, but for crafting." The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sun, Jun. 6, 2010.
  3. ^ "So You Want to Win a Nemerov?" 14 by 14. Issue 6. October 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d Hitchner, Earle "Verse That Sings in Many Styles." The Wall Street Journal. June 17, 2010
  5. ^ "Bridgford Announcement". www.wcupa.edu. Archived from the original on 2010-04-29.
  6. ^ Queen's Birthday Honours List 2010 Archived 2011-06-11 at the Wayback Machine. Saturday 12 June 2010
  7. ^ Wendy Cope Interviewed at West Chester Poetry Conference