It's the little things that bring joy to the heart of a poet laureate.
Robert Pinsky, America's current poet laureate, was thrilled recently when a woman called in during a radio interview he was doing, and recited from memory, over her car phone, an Emily Dickinson poem - even as she continued to barrel along the highway.
"There's something mystic about [poetry]," Mr. Pinsky says. "It's the combination of an intellectual/metaphysical/emotional experience." And nothing pleases him more than to see all sorts of people, especially in ordinary, workaday settings, partaking of that experience.
That's why he's organized the Favorite Poem Project. Pinsky is currently searching out 1,200 Americans he hopes to record reading their favorite poems aloud. The only requirement is a convincing or interesting -or, as often seems to be the case, moving -explanation why this particular poem is a favorite.
A number of recordings have already been made and so far the readers and their poetic choices seem to provide an excellent look at America's poetic sensibility.
Robert Norman, a Tampa, Fla., physician read "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," by William Carlos Williams, because Williams was also a doctor who, like Norman, combined poetry with a largely blue-collar medical practice. Richard Anthony Smith, a choral director in Montgomery, Ala., chose "A Responsory," by Thomas Merton, because he's intrigued by the fact that after reading the poem for 15 years he still hasn't fully fathomed it. Dorothy Stanaitis, a retired librarian in Gloucester, N.J., picked James Russell Lowell's "The First Snowfall," because of tender memories of her father reciting it when she was a child.
That's exactly the kind of variety and type of homespun charm Pinsky is seeking. The celebration of an everyday appreciation of poetry, he hopes, will provide a moving commentary on "our life together as Americans."
- Marjorie Coeyman
* To be considered for The Favorite Poem Project, write a letter that includes the following information: your name, address, occupation, age, a bit of background information, and the name of the one poem you chose and the name of the poet. Write a sentence or two or a short paragraph about why you chose the poem. The poem cannot be one you've written.
Send to: Robert Pinsky, The Favorite Poem Project, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA, 02215
You can also e-mail the information to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a submission on the Web: www.nefa.org