Established in 1978 to recognize and promote excellence in contemporary poetry by ensuring the publication of five books of poetry a year through a series of participating publishers. Five distinguished poets will each select one winning manuscript for publication from entries to the Open Competition. Each winner will receive $10,000.


About the National Poetry Series

The National Poetry Series is a literary awards program which sponsors the publication of five books of poetry each year. The manuscripts, solicited through an annual Open Competition, are selected by poets of national stature and published by a distinguished group of trade, university, and small presses.

You can learn more about the history of the National Poetry Series in this brochure.  

Statement of Purpose

The specific purposes for which this organization is incorporated are:
- To add in a meaningful way to the number of poetry books published each year, making possible books which might not otherwise be published by providing both financial support and assistance in the process of manuscript solicitation, selection, and promotion.
- To support poetry and increase the audience for poetry by heightening its visibility among readers, broadening publisher involvement with its publication, and increasing booksellers’ willingness to display and promote it. 
- To give American poets of national renown in the identification of emerging or less well-established poets. 
- To provide the conditions and mechanisms for a group of trade, university, and small press publishers to work together on the promotion and marketing of five poetry books each year, thus providing a structural model for collective literary publishing ventures. 
Daniel Halpern first proposed The National Poetry Series (NPS) in a speech at the Library of Congress in 1975. As a teacher, poet, small press publisher and editor, Halpern was frustrated by the discrepancy between the amount of quality poetry he knew was being written and the number of poetry volumes being published. If there are so many poets in the United States, he wondered, why are there no more poetry books available? How can we help these poets to be heard at a time when the bottom line is limiting their availability, at a time when we most need to hear them?
Most major trade publishers argue, if only by their silence, that poetry is in no way cost effective to produce. In response to the need to enhance the availability of good poetry, Halpern devised a plan whereby he could reduce cost and difficulty by facilitating the selection process and promotion of books through a nationwide contest with our most eminent and talented poets as judges. He presented this plan at the Library of Congress as an annual contest in which five winning manuscripts would be published, with the help of modest subsidies, by participating trade and university presses, thus increasing the amount of quality poetry available to the public. 
Although not present for the speech itself, the novelist James Michener read a transcript later published by the Library of Congress. He was so moved by the issues outlined in this speech that he immediately called Halpern and offered funding to initiate NPS. He explained his reasons for doing so in a statement released to the press:
I thought it deplorable that…the poet was at such a disadvantage, and it occurred to me that in my education that the study of poetry was of at least as much significance as the study of prose. And in the conduct of my present life I found myself reading rather more poetry than prose…
I did so because I needed poetry. It was an essential part of my inheritance and I would feel impoverished without it, and without constant renewal…But I also suspected that while I was writing my long books of prose, there might be some gifted young woman at the University of Michigan who was saying it all in some eight-line verse, and saying it much better. There was real chance that her verse might live a hell of lot longer than my eight hundred pages, and I deemed it deplorable that I could get published while she could not. 
Mr. Michener added, “I would not like to be a party to any publishing system which was able to publish prose, but no poetry, because our nation probably needed poets a lot more than it needed novelists.” 
With the help of Edward J. Piszek of The Copernicus Society, Mr. Michener’s gift was increased in such as way as to allow the yearly support to be made from interest only, thus guaranteeing NPS a permanent stream of yearly assistance. Additional start-up funding was provided by The Ford Foundation, and five distinguished publishing houses volunteered to participate in the program. With the efforts and assistance of these and other individuals, foundations, and corporations, The National Poetry Series was begun in 1978, leading to its first contest in 1979, and its first cycle of books was published in 1980. Since those first years, NPS has received funding from the Copernicus society, Exxon, the Lannan Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Mobil Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. 
The National Poetry Series has continued to support the annual publication of five books of poetry. Over eighty books have been sponsored by NPS, in collaboration with the eminent poets who have served as judges and a distinguished roster of trade, university, and small press publishers. 
NPS solicits and selects manuscripts through an annual Open Competition which gives access to all poets, regardless of age, previous publication, or poetic style. The range of judges and publishers who have worked with NPS has resulted in an eclectic collection of winning books.
For nearly twenty five years, NPS has sponsored the publication of poetry by an impressive array of both new and more established talent. NPS has ushered in the first books of Marie Howe, Denis Johnson, Laura Mullen, and Sherod Santos, and has honored the continuing achievements of such mature poets as Stephen Dunn, Stephen Dobyns, and Sterling Brown. Mark Doty won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his 1992 winning manuscript, My Alexandria. Billy Collins, our current U.S. Poet Laureate, was selected for The National Poetry Series in 1990 for his book, Questions About Angels.
The core activity of NPS continues to be the annual sponsorship of five books of poetry each year, selected by leading poets through an Open Competition and published by a group of trade, small press, and university press publishers. With the continuing generous support of its foundations, NPS will continue its activities with editors, booksellers, and publishers to promote and support additional programs. NPS launched the first national award for editors in 1992, subsequently named the Harry Ford Editing Award. In 1993, NPS inaugurated the first regional Booksellers Awards for Poetry. These are both continuing award programs. 
Long-range projects include a continuation and possible expansion of the Book Distribution program to under-funded public and school libraries, and prison educational programs. 2003 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of NPS, which the organization hopes to celebrate with a reunion of NPS winners and judges since its inception.