As the publisher's website explains, New Directions was founded in 1936, when James Laughlin (1914-1997), then a twenty-two-year-old Harvard sophomore, issued the first of the New Directions anthologies. "I asked Ezra Pound for 'career advice,'" James Laughlin recalled. "He had been seeing my poems for months and had ruled them hopeless. He urged me to finish Harvard and then do 'something' useful."
Few American publishers have been more useful to the cause of poetry. Yes, ND has published much great prose as well, both original (notably a huge number of Henry Miller essay collections), and in translation (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, the success of which funded many other projects; Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea) or reprinted/collected (Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories). Nonetheless, poetry -- less often supported by the major presses, especially early in a poet’s career -- is where the press has made its biggest impact.