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Week of 12 March 1999

Vol. II, No. 26

Feature Article

The Favorite Poem Project


"If a poem is written well," says CAS English Professor and U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, "it was written with the poet's voice and for a voice. Reading a poem silently instead of saying a poem is like the difference between staring at sheet music and actually humming or playing the music on an instrument."

No surprise, then, that Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project Web site uses audio, as well as video. Pinsky, who will end his term as U.S. Poet Laureate on April 1, leaves the Web site as his legacy. "The Favorite Poem Project offers a unique way to learn about poetry -- through people who love it," he says. "The archive will be a gift to the nation's future."

Internet users are able to hear Bridgit Stearns, a woman from Alaska, reading Steve Smith's Not Waving But Drowning -- a poem she chose for the site because it helped her stave off depression during the state's long winters. One can also listen to Rudolph Aukschun, a probation officer in Baltimore, read Hold onto Your Dreams, a Langston Hughes poem that he recites to his parolees.

The project was a simple idea that grew to epic proportions. Pinsky originally envisioned an archive of 100 people reading poetry. That number is now up to 1,000. The current total of 10,000 submissions includes one from an upstate New York resident, who wrote that Polly's Tree, a poem by Sylvia Plath, reminds him of his daughter Polly. He "magically" discovered the poem just months after she died at 24.

Pinsky will be accepting submissions through April 30, the last day of National Poetry Month. -- BF