The Poetry Forum was founded in 1984 by a group of Columbus poets and poetry lovers as an ongoing supplement to Poetry in the Park. The summer series in the Park of Roses, originated by poet Michael vander Does and sponsored by the City of Columbus Recreation & Parks Department, had built a loyal audience over several years, and poets who had participated in and attended the readings saw a need for more exposure for poetry in the city.
Cheryl Abdullah, John Cropp, Mary Kenney Rumm, Homer Weathers, Elizabeth Ann James, Jack Boenninghofen, William Redding, and Steve Abbott originated the series at Larry's, a historic bar just off the Ohio State University campus at Woodruff Avenue & North High Street. The weekly series and its format of two featured readers followed by an open mic caught on quickly and became known as The Poetry Forum at Larry's.
For the first two years, poets were not paid, but in its third year The Poetry Forum sought and received grant funding from the Ohio Arts Council. As part of its OAC grant commitment, The Poetry Forum began raising its own funds by passing Bill Redding's hat each night. To encourage donations, organizers gave donors a raffle ticket for every dollar dropped into the hat and held a drawing during each night's open mic. The winner received a book of poetry.
The series continued as other poetry venues sprang up as part of the city's rapidly expanding poetry community. A changing committee of poets selected featured readers and occasionally hosted theme readings organized by committee members, most notably the original annual Dead Poets Night for Halloween when readers present only the works of dead poets. The emergence of performance and slam poetry created opportunities to broaden The Poetry Forum's offerings, and it became an integral part of a diverse and eclectic scene.
Between 1986 and 1993, The Poetry Forum compiled 4 collections of work by featured readers in chapbooks called Larry's Poetry Review. Throughout the 1990's and into the new century, The Poetry Forum hosted a range of local, regional, and national poets, including David Baker, Terrance Hayes, Kathy Fagan, Annie Finch, Jim Daniels, and Anne Townsend.