In Praise of Limestone
The Favorite Poem Project: Sven Birkerts reads W. H. Auden
“By reading poems we love aloud, we can learn how much pleasure there can be in the sounds of words,” says Robert Pinsky, a CAS professor and former U.S. poet laureate. “It’s as though saying the words of a poem aloud make one feel more able, more capable than in ordinary life. You enter a different state.”
Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project in 1997 during the first of an unprecedented three terms as poet laureate to encourage Americans to celebrate and explore their love of poetry. Since then, the project — now directed by BU poet Maggie Dietz (GRS’97) — has produced three anthologies and more than 1,000 readings around the country.
Every Friday, BU Today will feature a member of the BU community reading his or her favorite poem, and on Thursday, November 16, we’ll host our own Favorite Poem Reading at BU Central. Any student or faculty or staff member can participate.
If you’d like to read your favorite poem for BU Today, e-mail us at email@example.com.
Sven Birkerts, Editor of Agni.
“In Praise of Limestone” by W. H. Auden.
“This poem tries to get under the skin of human temperament, and it does so in a really interesting way—through geology and history, and with a kind of a religious questioning. How can a world be this pleasant and pleasurable when I know there are these hard, rocky places? It’s not a poem that I feel like I totally get, but every time I read it, it opens up a little for me.”
Christopher Robinson, sign-language interpreter with BU’s Office of Disability Services.
“Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant.
“I was introduced to `Thanatopsis’ by the great American playwright, August Wilson,* whom I met several times and who inspired my work in the performing arts. Wilson incorporated excerpts of the poem into his play, Gem of the Ocean. He told me it presented a non-western view on death—that death was not something to run away from, that our ancestors live on in everything around us.”
*August Wilson died on October 2, 2005. Earlier this year, Robinson was an ASL interpreter for the Huntington Theater’s production of Wilson’s final play, Radio Golf.
Jonathan Chin (CAS’08), cofounder of Speak for Yourself: BU Slam Poetry
“Summer of the Pterodactyl,” by Elliot Harmon
“This does a lot for slam poetry — it bumps a lot of myths, like slam poetry’s supposed to be very loud and rambunctious, but it’s not. It’s also a great poem.”
Sara DeRitter (CAS’02, GRS’02), former program director of the Community Service Center
“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou
“When I was in the eighth grade, my aunt Sue gave me a book of Maya Angelou’s poems. This one in particular just jumped out at me because of the tone of the poem and because the confidence that she had was something that I was striving for, and looking for, at that time.”
Kate Snodgrass (GRS’90), director of BU’s Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
“Snake” by D. H. Lawrence
“This has been my favorite poem for many, many years — I think because it tells a story.”
Reverend Dr. Robert Alan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
“I selected this poem, because it is familiar, because it is from New England, and because it is about calling, or vocation, and that’s so important, particularly in the lovely community of a university.”
Peter Hawkins, CAS professor of religion and director of the Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts
“Untitled” by ee cummings
“This is one of the first real poems that I ever heard. Poetry in high school had been “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree” until my teacher Marilyn Goodman introduced us to ee cummings when I was a junior. She introduced this poem, which I instantly decided was what literature should be about. Why? Because it makes you think about language; for me, it makes me think about God in new ways. It’s tricky, it’s fun, it’s beautiful, and it sounds good to me when I read it.”
Paul Howell (GRS’08), doctoral student in astronomy
“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas
"At its most obvious level, the poem is written to a dying father urging him not to die. But, more abstractly, it’s about not letting the passion in you die as you grow older. And I thought that was appropriate, as a 50-year old graduate student. Clearly, astronomy is a passion of mine."
Colleen Quinn, program coordinator in the Student Activities Office
“Sick” by Shel Silverstein
“Back in third grade I had to memorize a poem, and this poem, about a little girl making up excuses not to go to school, always makes me laugh.”