Americans' Favorite Poems

Americans' Favorite Poems

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by Robert Pinsky, Favorite Poem Project (U. S.)
     
 

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This anthology embodies Robert Pinsky's commitment to discover America's beloved poems, his special undertaking as Poet Laureate of the United States.
The selections in this anthology were chosen form the personal letters of thousands of Americans who responded to Robert Pinsky's invitation to write to him about their favorite poems. Some poems are memories

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Overview

This anthology embodies Robert Pinsky's commitment to discover America's beloved poems, his special undertaking as Poet Laureate of the United States.
The selections in this anthology were chosen form the personal letters of thousands of Americans who responded to Robert Pinsky's invitation to write to him about their favorite poems. Some poems are memories treasured in the mind since childhood; some crystallize the passion of love or recall the trail of loss and sorrow. The poems and poets in this anthology—from Sappho to Lorca, from Shakespeare and Chaucer to Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Bluck, and Allen Ginsberg—are poems to be read aloud and memorized, poems to be celebrated as part of our nation's cultural inheritance. Accompanying the poems are comments by people who speak not as professional critics but as passionate readers of various ages, professions and regions. This anthology, in a manner unlike any other, discloses the rich and vigorous presence of poetry in American life at the millennium and provides a portrait of the United States through the lens of poetry.

Editorial Reviews

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Poet and Nobel Laureate in Literature Joseph Brodsky famously remarked that poetry should be sold in cheap editions in supermarkets and airports. Under the auspices of U. S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz, the Favorite Poem Project takes the opposite tack: instead of putting poetry into the supermarket aisles, how about finding which poems are already there, indelibly imprinted in the hearts and minds of all those shoppers, and then anthologizing them?

Taking its cue from the wonderful Lifelines anthology series, which gathers "famous people's favorite poems," Americans' Favorite Poems contains several hundred poems selected not by editors Pinsky and Dietz, but by ordinary Americans who responded to Pinsky's oft-repeated plea for people to send him their favorite poems. Each poem is introduced by one or more explanatory notes from the person who submitted it, and here is where this book, like Lifelines, becomes much more than another poetry anthology: the notes themselves are worth the cover price. Each offers a unique, always passionate and sometimes heartbreaking perspective on a great poem. Taken together, they speak volumes about our country, and about the solitary, revelatory moment of discovering a poem that will never leave you.

Editors Pinsky and Dietz want to prove that poetry in America is alive and well beyond the walled towers of academia. After reading notes from actors, military men, schoolteachers, handymen, social workers, retirees, priests, doctors, prisoners, students, lawyers, homemakers, fundraising consultants, docents, aging high school football stars, truckers, and dozens more, it is hard to argue that poetry no longer speaks to ordinary people.

Every note offers a personal explanation of the unique link a poem formed with a single reader. Again and again, we witness that moment of bonding, often in the face of a willful determination not to like poetry. A student from New York City introduces Coleridge's hallucinatory "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which creates an ominous and surreal atmosphere that no special effects technology can match, with these words: "I never liked poetry; as a matter of fact, I hated it. In ninth grade, my teacher gave me this long poem to read for homework. I was mad. First of all, I didn't like poetry and second of all, this poem is very long." But, like the wedding guest who encounters the mariner, he is transfixed, and by the end of his note, he declares, "Every time I read this poem I just get a special feeling in my gut and I just want to keep on reading it again and again."

Running through these notes is the theme of renewal: a single poem can be something different each time it is read. Introducing Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," a California retiree says, "this poem comforts me and surprises me every time I read it." A nurse in Michigan says of Rita Dove's "Daystar," "This poem has haunted me ever since I read it the first time."

Then of course there are the poems themselves, small alchemical wonders which mirror the passions of our disparate population. There have been dozens of anthologies of American poets, but this volume, which collects poetry from the world over, seems more accurately American than any that preceded it. Many of the poems concern exile and emigration; many of those who wrote offer a favorite poem from their homeland that has comforted them in the strange environment of the New World. All of the American greats -- Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, and others -- are included here. But their grouping, which can seem forced in a geographically specific collection, is as natural as can be alongside poems from Russia, Iran, China, and dozens more countries. Together, these poems present America as it really is, has been, and will be.

Any lover of poetry will find several favorites here, and will get a chance to read how strangers, miles away, found them. Anyone who has yet to discover poetry's force will find it here, and be guided by the straightforward, unpretentious instructions of others who have found it before. And there isn't a reader who won't find at least one poem in this collection that produces that singular sensation, the "special feeling in your gut," which signals that your world has been enriched, permanently.

--Jake Kreilkamp

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393048209
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/28/1999
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
1,102,894
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.20(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Maggie Dietz is the Favorite Poem Project's director. She lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

Robert Pinsky is the author of eight collections of poetry including, most recently, his Selected Poems. His translation The Inferno of Dante won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. His CD PoemJazz, with Grammy-winning pianist Laurence Hobgood, was released in 2012. As United States Poet Laureate, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project (www.favoritepoem.org), in which thousands of Americans shared their favorite poems. That project gave rise to the previous anthologies, Americans’ Favorite Poems and An Invitation to Poetry, with each poem accompanied by readers’ comments. Pinsky teaches at Boston University.

Robert Pinsky is the author of eight collections of poetry including, most recently, his Selected Poems. His translation The Inferno of Dante won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. His CD PoemJazz, with Grammy-winning pianist Laurence Hobgood, was released in 2012. As United States Poet Laureate, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project (www.favoritepoem.org), in which thousands of Americans shared their favorite poems. That project gave rise to the previous anthologies, Americans’ Favorite Poems and An Invitation to Poetry, with each poem accompanied by readers’ comments. Pinsky teaches at Boston University.

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