Do You Have a Favorite Poem?

Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky was on campus yesterday, and I got the chance to sit in on a Q&A session he gave with some of the department's creative writing students.  He was supposedly addressing the topic of "Poetry as Craft," but he skillfully navigated much broader territory and engaged these kids quite successfully.  There were more than seven students in the audience, by the way.

I loved hearing him share about how he is still never quite sure if he's any good, how he has remained completely skeptical of accolades, and how his relationship with music and sound and complicates and drives his poetry.  Though I have not previously been much familiar with his work, I was impressed with his approach and with his passion.  Here are a few bits to inspire you:

The Poetry Foundation page on Pinsky writes,
Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a meaningful and integral part of American life.
Much of what he said yesterday made this view evident, but his pride in what he considers his greatest accomplishment as Poet Laureate - The Favorite Poem Project - demonstrated it most fully.  On the site, you can select from the 50 videos made of average Americans discussing and reading their favorite poems.  The videos are thoughtful and moving, and the project gives me hope because this idea - poetry as a meaningful and integral part of American life - is something I believe in  and feel we have gotten away from as a society.   I fear that if you walked the sidewalk and stopped people at random, many would have a hard time identifying any poem much less a favorite poem.  But Pinsky had responses in the thousands to the Project's request.  There are (or at least there were in 1999/2000) still people who care about poems.  Of course, thousands doesn't even begin to approach a representative swath of the over 300 million people who live in the United States, and unfortunately, the funding for the Project ran out a few years ago.  But it is a start, and it got me to wondering what I would call my favorite poem. 

There have been many favorites in my life, starting with e.e. cummings in high school and on to Roethke and Plath in college and beyond.  I'm not sure I could ever choose a favorite (I can't with books, movies, or music either), but I might be able to shake down a top 5.  It might include Roethke's "The Waking" or maybe "Dolor." Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" perhaps?  "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden.  Plath - either "Morning Song" or "Child" or both?  Levertov's "Annunciation" or Mary Oliver's "Rain" or Yeats' "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven"?  Clearly, top 5 is not happening either. 

Those of us who breathe poetry often function like collectors: collecting the great words set down before us to be inspired by and collecting the words and sounds and rhythms of the world around us just waiting to be set down.  Pinsky says the most important assignment he gives students is to be a collector.  He quotes Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium" and urges students to recognize "Nor is there singing school but studying / Monuments of its own magnificence." He requires them to type up (don't just copy and paste, for typing secures the memory differently) those monuments of magnificence (poems, lyrics, and phrases that inspire them), to hunt and gather those words into a living collection and to keep it often before them for reference, reminder, comfort.  Judging from my hastily gathered list (performed in snatches from my office shelves), I need to take this assignment myself.  What about you?  Do you have a favorite poem?  What would be on your list?


  1. Today someone asked me to recommend ONE book, my FAVOURITE book - and now the same question for poems. Both questions impossible.
    BUT knowing it's impossible and changeable and all that; here are a few:
    During Wind and Rain - Thomas Hardy
    Cold Heaven - W.B. Yeats
    Canal Bank Walk -Patrick Kavanagh
    I Felt a Funeral in My Brain - Emily Dickinson
    Design - Robert Frost

  2. My favorite poem(short one that is) is Ozymandias http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2011/12/ozymandias-percy-bysshe-shelley.html