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Robert Pinsky Discusses Poetry at the Academy


Press Release

Academy Fellow Robert Pinsky, Professor at Boston University and former Poet Laureate of the United States, discussed the Favorite Poem Project at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on October 14, 2011.

In 1988, during his tenure as Poet Laureate, Pinsky asked Americans to write a few sentences about poems they loved and would like to read aloud to document the presence of poetry in people’s everyday lives. With virtually no advertising budget, the Favorite Poem Project received more than 18,000 submissions.

Pinsky said that the response proved that poetry has “a vigorous presence in the American cultural landscape.” His goal was to document that presence and create a “portrait of the USA through the lens of poetry.” Having real people read the poems, instead of actors, he said, was integral to the project, because “poetry is a vocal art, not a performance art. While saying the words, you can imagine the poet saying the words. It is not a performance, but a reading.”

The project produced an anthology Americans' Favorite Poems, which includes letters from project participants and 50 short videos featuring Americans reading and speaking about their favorite poems. The project website,, features these videos, as well as a forum for teachers and students.

“The original project was conceived as an oral project,” Pinsky said, “But once we saw a little video, the faces were most interesting. The face is part of how you understand the poem. This is not an academic or commercial manifestation. It is the person and where they feel comfortable.”

The Favorite Poem Project generated more than 800 community poetry-reading events across the country, many of them in schools.

Pinsky is co-editor of Americans’ Favorite Poems and Poems to Read, and An Invitation to Poetry, all of which grew out of his work with the Favorite Poem Project. A fourth anthology, Essential Pleasures: Poems to Read Aloud, was released in 2009. He is also the poetry editor for the online magazine Slate.


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