Poetry

Think Tank

Pinsky: "Americans Are Not Just Gluttonous Dupes." What's Your Favorite Poem?

What's the Big Idea? 

As the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Robert Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, a program dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry's role in Americans' lives. Pinsky asks Americans to submit videos or tapes of themselves reading their favorite poems, then uploads them to this website. Behind the Favorite Poem Project is the concept that poetry is the height of humanism -- a medium which reflects the values of democracy and "the dignity of the individual."

It's an inherently patriotic idea, says Pinsky, who told Big Think: "There is a kind of glib, often reactionary, attitude that all Americans are jerks, They're yahoos. They don’t like art. They don’t like poetry. They only like their cars, their expensive clothes, and their electronic equipment and they're jusy gluttonous dopes." Pinsky says he gets thousands of letters from Americans every year saying what their favorite poem is and why. So what's yours? Let us know in the comments section below.

Watch Robert Pinsky reflect on the passage of time, a major theme of poetry:

What's the Significance?

Just as March is the season for college basketball, and autumn brings an embarrassment of riches for football fans, the holidays may be the best time of year for poetry. There are the songs and carols we all know by heart. And of course, there are written works aplenty -- from Clement Moore to Dickens to Joyce -- with a little something for everyone.

The traditionalist

Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there...

The irreverent

The Savior Must Have Been a Docile Gentleman, by Emily Dickinson

The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman—
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen—

The Road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were Boys
Was leveled, but for that 'twould be
A rugged Billion Miles—

The anti-consumerist who hates cornball relatives

Christ Climbed Down, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candy canes and breakable stars...

The melancholic

Christmas Tree, by James Merrill

To be

     Brought down at last
From the cold sighing mountain
Where I and the others
Had been fed, looked after, kept still,
Meant, I knew--of course I knew--
That it would be only a matter of weeks,

That there was nothing more to do...

The exclamatory!

Every Who Down in Whoville, The Tall and the Small, by Dr. Seuss

Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"...
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
And what happened then? Well...in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch's small heart Grew three sizes that day!

Get in to the holiday spirit by listening to Robert Pinsky read Dante's Paradiso, one of his own favorites:


Editor's Note: This list admittedly skews heavily towards American poetry. Let us know what we've missed. (Robert Pinsky believes in you!)

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