Today, I wanted to offer something a little different. Last night Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate (1997 – 2000) spoke at our local university. While the microphone was not set correctly for his soft-spoken ways, and I probably missed a third of what he said (so, I will paraphrase to the best of my ability), the point he was trying to make was completely clear.

He said poetry is not at the fringes, but, instead in the center of our society. Art, including poetry, should be a part of our inheritance. In the United States, we do not have the social classes, as many countries do, that support the artist or art, nor do we have our own folk poetry that we learned at the knees of our grandmothers. Instead, we come from many cultures and have diverse backgrounds – Ukrainian, Irish, African, Vietnamese, Chilean – each with their own stories, poems, music, and arts.

But poetry is for the people, not the elite. It’s about falling in love, Pinsky explained. He told the audience how his daughter is a veterinarian and is deeply knowledgeable about the anatomy of dogs. But before vet school, before all the learning, she had first fallen in love with dogs. The love comes before the analysis, he explained. And so it is with poetry.

The truth is poetry can enhance our everyday lives, no matter what our jobs, our social standing, our education, our religion, or our income.

During his time as Poet Laureate (1997 – 2000), Pinsky started the Favorite Poem Project and called upon Americans to share their favorite poems. And boy, oh boy, did they! Eighteen thousand people, ages 5 – 97, contributed to the project; and from these submissions, the organization put together several collections of people reading and talking about the poems they love.

Why should you check this out? Well, so many of us are frightened of poetry. We haven’t allowed ourselves the chance to fall in love with it. Maybe we had a teacher who explicated poems so minutely that any interpretation we might have had or any application we might have found to our own lives was dismissed or denigrated. Maybe the poems we were exposed to when we were younger didn’t seem to speak to our lives, so we came to the conclusion that poetry is only for people who are much smarter or more in-tune with the interworking of poetry than we are. But these collections show just the opposite. Poetry is for every single one of us. And what is most remarkable to me about these collections is the unexpected pairing of poet to listener.*

John Doherty, a construction worker for the Boston Gas Company, always thought poetry was intimidating. But listen as he reads parts of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and explains why the poem resonates with him, and you see how he has changed his mind.

See how Pov Chin, a student in Stockton, CA, whose parents escaped Cambodia, finds herself in Langston Hughes’ “Minstrel Man.” The poem speaks of the deep feelings she so often disguises with a smile in her own life.

Poetry, says Pinsky, should come from a place inside that moves you so much you need to speak it aloud. Last night, when an audience member asked him which of his poems was his favorite, Pinsky said that was for others to decide. Instead, he said, he was more interested in seeing people react to his poetry the way Seph Rodney, a photographer from Long Beach, CA, did when he read Sylvia Plath’s “Nick and the Candlestick.”

I hope you will explore the videos on this website and discover the magic of poetry that is there for all of us – the only prerequisite for loving poetry is to listen with an open heart.

For more advice, tips, and inspiration on writing, please visit my BLOG.

*All of the following videos are available on the home page of the Favorite Poetry Project.