Former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky Leads State Poetry Teaching Effort

in BU In the Community, News Releases
July 10th, 2002

Contact: Bob Zalisk, 617/353-7628 | bzalisk@bu.edu

Boston, Mass – With MCAS (state achievement tests) now a requirement for high school graduation in Massachusetts, do teachers and students have any time left for poetry?

Teaching elementary and high school teachers how to use the power of poetry to keep interest, inspiration, and insight in the classroom is one goal of the Favorite Poem Project’s Summer Poetry Institute for Educators now under way at Boston University.

Created and led by BU professor Robert Pinsky, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, the Institute also aims to demonstrate poetry’s power as a learning tool and its value as a significant humanistic study.

“Poetry is fundamental,” says Pinsky, who built on the Favorite Poem Project he launched as Poet Laureate to structure the Institute. “It’s a time-tried means toward what we call ‘language skills’ — as well as a basic human pleasure like singing and dancing.”

In the Favorite Poem Project thousands of Americans from all walks of life were videotaped reading favorite poems aloud. The tapes are used in many of the Institute’s sessions. Four other poets of national reputation — David Ferry, Louise Gluck, Gail Mazur, and Heather McHugh — also give seminars, readings, and participate in discussion groups with the more than fifty Institute participants.

The Institute is intensive: it begins at 9 each morning and continues until at least 5 pm for an entire week. At least one discussion or workshop session each day is devoted to answering the question, “How do we bring what we’re learning to the classroom?” Half of this year’s participants are teachers or administrators in elementary schools and half are in high schools. They come from schools throughout the eastern half of the state.

The Institute practices what it preaches. The touchstone of its teaching methodology is reading poetry — out loud. Pinsky strives for vocal and personal connections with a poem as a starting point for study. This is the most effective way, he maintains, to enter into a poem.

“Through poetry, students master poetic devices, syntax and diction,” says Wilmington High School teacher Lauren Manganiello, one of last year’s Institute participants. “They learn to think critically, a crucial aspect, in fact, of the MCAS. We should not be eliminating poetry; we should be using it to its fullest teaching potential.”

Boston University is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States, with an enrollment of nearly 28,000 students in its 17 schools and colleges. The University offers an exceptional grounding in the liberal arts, a broad range of programs in the fine arts, sciences, engineering, and professional areas, and state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.

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