In my last post, when writing about reading poems of grief, I mentioned Robert Pinsky–former US Poet Laureate. When Pinsky was Laureate, he promoted the program now called “The Favorite Poem Project.” The concept was to demonstrate that poetry appeals to a diverse audience; there are so many styles and types of poetry, on so many topics, that anyone can find a poem that appeals. Teachers, plumbers, teenagers, soldiers, business executives, mail carriers, truckers, grandparents, schoolchildren–anyone who had a poem that had special meaning was invited to say a bit about why or how that poem meant so much and then to read the poem aloud to an audience. Pinsky’s project included favorite poem reading events, and videorecordings of such events, now archived at the site…and a book.
This year–this past Tuesday, to be quite exact–I took part in a favorite poem reading at the college where I work. I find these readings rejuvenating. Sometimes the stories that surround the poem choice are heartwarming, sad, or funny. Some readers tell an anecdote about a favorite teacher, relative, friend, or book; it’s wonderful how those stories “work” with the chosen poem. The director of information technology related the story of how, when her mother was in labor with her, her mother was taken to the hospital by hearse because taxis in the south did not serve her “black neighborhood.” A dance professor offered the romantic story of his long-distance courtship with his (now) wife via letters and poems…and Neruda. An instructor spoke of his fascination with attics and his father’s estrangement from the family and then read Stanley Kunitz‘s amazing poem “The Portrait.”
The poem I read was also a Kunitz poem, “The Snakes of September,” one of his later works. I am not sure this is my favorite poem–indeed, I would be hard pressed to come up with one only, and I might choose Ben Johnson’s “On My First Son” or Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” or Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift” or…well, there are dozens. I just chose one I thought would suit the evening, a poem with a garden in it, and an allusion to Eden, and the lovely phrase “the wild/braid of creation/trembles.” It speaks to me.
Look for poems that speak to you. Keep them near you, on the fridge or by your desk, in a notebook by your bed, or in your heart. Share them if you feel the urge; you will be doing good.
Blessings for National Poetry Month and always.