Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project to Revive Poetry’s Place in Classroom

in Arts, Humanities/Social Science, News Releases, School of Education
April 27th, 2001

Contact: Laura Mikols, 617-353-3666 |

(Boston, Mass.) — Robert Pinsky, one of the most celebrated and visible poets to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate, and Boston University’s School of Education will present a week-long poetry institute to revive poetry’s place in the classroom. The Summer Poetry Institute for Educators, from July 9 to 13, stems from the Favorite Poem Project, Pinsky’s special undertaking as poet laureate. The institute will train elementary, middle and high school teachers and administrators in Massachusetts to incorporate poetry into vibrant classroom activities.

When Pinsky was named poet laureate in 1997 he wanted to document at the turn of the millenium people from all walks of life saying aloud poems they love. The project, launched during National Poetry Month in 1998, quickly drew more than 18,000 letters from people who wanted to be considered for the video archive. The archive, available at, is comprised of 50 video segments. Most of the segments have been shown on the “Lehrer News Hour.” Interest in reading favorite poems aloud generated more than 800 community poetry-reading events; hundreds of those took place in schools.

“The Favorite Poem Project has already had an impact on the teaching of poetry. The summer institute is the next step,” says Pinsky, professor of English and creative writing at Boston University. “The seminars offered at the institute will become models for revitaling the teaching of poetry in classrooms all over the country.”

According to Pinsky, the last decade offers other significant evidence that poetry is on the rise — climbing book sales, increases in students enrolled in graduate writing programs and widespread, better-attended poetry readings. The Favorite Poem Project has caught the attention of the 2002 Winter Olympics committee who will for the first open the games with a poetry reading event that will include athletes reading aloud their favorite poems. But this blossoming interest in poetry is not reflected in schools.

“While the nation at large is rediscovering poetry, its dwindling presence in classrooms conveys the mistaken message to students that the art is not vital to education or relevant to our culture,” says Maggie Dietz, director of the Favorite Poem Project at Boston University.

The Favorite Poem Project’s summer institute seeks to bridge that gap by offering new ways for teachers and students to connect to poetry. “We believe that the Favorite Poem Project’s greatest value lies in its showing the real life significance of poetry on a deeper, more personal level,” says Dietz.

The summer 2001 institute will serve 50 participants — teachers and teacher/administrator teams — at the elementary, middle and high school level. The five-day program will teach the founding principles of the Favorite Poem Project: that poetry is a vocal, physical art meant to be read aloud and that people forge personal connections to poetry. The curriculum will expose teachers to a broad range of poems and to various ways of reading and teaching poetry.

Pinsky has recruited several distinguished poets and literature scholars to teach seminars, including Louise Gluck, Rosanna Warren, David Ferry and Frank Bidart. Pinsky will also teach classes. Both he and Dietz will present the project video archive; poignant and revealing, these video segments capture the beauty of words and offer proof that poetry is alive and well in America.

Since the project’s early beginnings, Pinsky’s hope has been that its outcome would affect the teaching of poetry to young people. “By putting great poems in the contemporary context of contemporary American lives, the Favorite Poem videos offer person-to-person introductions to complex works of art,” he says, “a refreshing approach to the teaching of poetry in classrooms.

“Our most important goal is to give the young people a new approach to poetry and to ensure that their lives are not deprived of this essential, invigorating art,” says Pinsky.

The summer poetry institutes are funded by Boston University and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.

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