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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Poetry Wed Oct 30 2013

What's Your Favorite Poem?

FoundationLibrary.jpgYou've got one month to decide. The Poetry Foundation's Favorite Poem Project: Chicago is asking Chicagolanders to send in their favorite poem along with "a few sentences about why the poem you've chosen is especially meaningful to you." From these submissions, five will be chosen for inclusion in a series of videos planned to drop in April (National Poetry Month) 2014. The deadline is November 30.

This iteration of the Favorite Poem Project takes its cues from a larger, older effort: meter-to-the-masses poet laureate Robert Pinsky sent out a similar call to the entire nation during his tenure in 1997. When the project first crossed my radar I thought, "Huh, neat!" And then I thought: wait, how do you choose a favorite poem? I flipped through my mental poetry anthology of greatest hits and lingered on a few pages, but none of them seemed quite to answer to the name of all-time favorite. Poems are like songs; you play them when the mood is right.

So is this a project for people who just don't know many poems? an uncharitable part of me thought. I decided to investigate--the original Favorite Poem Project maintains a gallery of 50 videos on its website. And, okay, there are some obvious choices. (And some very 1997 choices in videography, from titles in Mistral to, dear God, the sound of a koto and a shot of a jade plant when we land on Li Po.) But there is a lot of breadth and a lot of delight in the selection. A salesman from upstate New York brings John Ashbery down to earth with his reading of "The Improvement." A lisping fifth-grader appears equally in love with Theodore Roethke's "The Sloth" and her own budding talents of dramatic interpretation. A 92-year-old Stanley Kunitz mesmerizingly recounts his discovery of Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur." And so on.

So I hope at least a few Chicagoans are less indecisive than I am and that the Poetry Foundation has a wealth of entries to choose from. (And I'd love to hear if other people find it possible to choose a favorite in the comments.) It turns out this is a great way to take in poems--separated from the hushed room and the standard Poetry Voice delivery, and placed right in the lives of the people who like them best.

Photo of the Poetry Foundation's library courtesy of the Foundation's website.

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