William Drenttel and his wife Jessica Helfland often collaborate on their design projects. In the early 2000s, the couple oversaw a revamp of Poetry Magazine’s cover art. As described by the Poetry Foundation, the new format features a central art piece that varies in style and execution, with the masthead colored to match (“100 Years of Poetry: Designing the Magazine, 1912-2012”).

This was a marked departure from the publication’s original cover art, which up until the early aughts almost always included the magazine’s signature pegasus emblem somewhere within the design. This was due in part to a change in staff, with the former editor in chief being replaced by Christian Wiman. There is a lot of color blocking across covers, made all the more eye-grabbing by the unadorned background. Some artists utilize the neutrality of the backdrop to give the illusion of depth, others find ways to illustrate with the masthead as an interactive element. There is a minimalistic quality to the new design, but the idiosyncratic illustrations give it some added warmth and character. Though the art itself oscillates between styles, this is emblematic of Drenttels’ own ethos as a conductor for conversation around design. Within his own publication, Design Observer, he highlights the work of other artists in their respective disciplines, while his contributions are mostly literary. In that way, there is some symmetry between his work for Poetry Magazine and his work for Design Observer, as a director and not an artist whose own work is being discussed within the magazine’s contents.


Gehl, Paul F. “100 Years of Poetry: Designing the Magazine,…” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69878/100-years-of-poetry-designing-the-magazine-1912-2012.