Poets' Roundtable of Arkansas (PRA)

Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas (PRA), the state’s poetry society, was founded on February 5, 1931, by seven women “determined to learn the fundamental, technical rules of regular good, readable poetry.” Josie Frazee Cappleman, Laura Lewellyn, Bertha Meredith, Mae Lorraine Bass, Stella Payne Crow, Marguerite Lanier Kaufman, and Ruth Arnold Leveck met in members’ homes around a dining table, calling themselves Round Table Poets. The society’s current name was adopted on July 25, 1939. PRA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of poetry and the encouragement of poets. The purpose of the organization is to foster and encourage poets in the art, to promote an appreciation of poetry in the community, and to secure a fuller recognition of the works of contemporary poets in the state of Arkansas.

The organization grew, at times having as many as a dozen branches throughout the state; in 2005, these ranged from the Roundtable Poets of Fort Smith to the Mississippi County Writers’ Guild. In 1938, the society began publishing an annual anthology of members’ poems, Poems by Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas. All PRA members are automatically members of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS), the national convention of which was held in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 1966 and in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1995. As of 2005, all poets laureate of the state have been members of PRA.

In 1947, progressive American poets campaigned for a National Poetry Day. Among the pioneers of the group was Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni, who founded the first poetry club in Arkansas and the southwestern United States in 1925. On August 23, 1948, Arkansas became the eleventh state to recognize October 15 as National Poetry Day. In 1963, the Arkansas Senate established it as Poetry Day in Arkansas, and in 1969, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller named the day in honor of Marinoni. Always celebrated on the third Saturday of October, festivities include contests with awards totaling about $3,000. The Sybil Nash Abrams Award, given to state residents only, offers prizes of $1,000, $400, and $250.

In 1976, PRA President Lucy Babcock (granddaughter of Bernie Babcock, an early PRA member) and Patricia McGraw worked to integrate the organization; in October of that year, members voted to make “a sincere interest in poetry and desire to affiliate with the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas, and payment of dues” the requirements for membership. Babcock was also successful in convincing Arkansas native Maya Angelou to return to the state for the first time since childhood to speak at the 1976 Poetry Day celebration.

The society’s spring luncheon is named in honor or Dr. Lily Peter, who served as poet laureate for twenty years. During her tenure, she actively participated in and was a generous patron of the arts, especially poetry, being an accomplished poet herself. Her generosity made possible visits by poets the state society could not otherwise have afforded, among them John Ciardi. Luncheon speakers/poets gave PRA members the opportunity to have their work critiqued in an open forum. Winners of student contests sponsored or publicized by PRA, along with their parents, attend the luncheon and read their winning poems.

An annual Merit Award is given to the member who has exhibited “outstanding service in encouraging poets in the art, promoted an appreciation of poetry in the community, and secured recognition of the works of contemporary poets in the state of Arkansas.”

For additional information:
Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas. https://poetsroundtableofarkansas.org/ (accessed September 28, 2023).

Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas Records. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Marcia Camp
Little Rock, Arkansas


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