Even poets acknowledge that poetry can be intimidating, but Maggie Dietz, the director of the Favorite Poem Project, has an antidote for such concerns: instead of thinking about the structure or the meaning, just say the poem aloud.
“Sometimes teachers are afraid of poetry, and sometimes students have been made to despise it,” says Dietz (GRS’97). “But one of the principles of the poem project is that part of the pleasure is in saying poetry aloud, and hearing it.”
Finding pleasure in poetry is also one of the primary goals of the Favorite Poem Institute, a collaboration between the School of Education and the Favorite Poem Project — the effort by Robert Pinsky, former U.S. poet laureate and a CAS professor, to promote poetry in Americans’ lives. The institute, which begins on Monday, July 17, and runs through Friday, July 21, brings K-12 teachers to BU, where they discuss poetry with the poets themselves, explore their own responses to it, and think about how to evoke similar reactions in their students.
“It’s teaching the art of the poem that is a motivation to the child,” says Lee Indrisano, an SED professor of developmental studies and the codirector of the institute. “We don’t provide lessons in how to do this, we simply enable them.”
Nearly 40 teachers from around the country are participating in this year’s institute, which offers readings and seminars with poets such as Dietz, Frank Bidart, David Ferry, and Louise Glück. “We see it as an immersion into the arts,” says Dietz, “spending time reading and thinking and talking about poetry.” Throughout the week the teachers also spend time in workshops developing lesson plans, which they present to the group on Friday. The institute concludes with a reading by the teachers of their favorite poems.
The institute is now in its fifth year, and every session has yielded impressive results. One teacher, Indrisano remembers, developed a lesson for her students that yielded a community-wide poetry and photography exhibition. Another, in the Chelsea public schools, assigned a Family Poetry Project, which asked parents to respond to the poems that their children chose as favorites.
“To start, I had the kids participate in a group reading,” another former participant wrote in an evaluation. “They discovered sounds and rhythms they had been rushing past — and once they heard the sounds, they really seemed to fall in love with the words.”
The institute also holds a daily reading with the participating poets, which is free and open to the public. The readings take place from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. each day, and are held in the Sargent College auditorium at 635 Commonwealth Ave. A full schedule of readings is available on the SED Web site. [LINK www.bu.edu/sed]